The Government has repealed a law that Justice Minister Andrew Little has described as "medieval, archaic and unjust".

Parliament last night unanimously passed the Crimes Amendment Bill, which repealed the "year and a day" rule as well as axed laws prohibiting blasphemy and imposed harsher sentences for would-be livestock thieves.

The year and a day rule prevented people from being prosecuted for causing the death of a person who dies after a year and a day.

Little said removing this "archaic and unjust" rule would ensure it no longer prevents those who break the law from being held to account.


He said it makes no sense to stop a prosecution because of an arbitrary date chosen in "medieval times".

"Advances in medical science and life support machines that may keep victims alive for longer than a year and a day mean there is no longer any justification for this rule."

The rule was a potential bar to prosecution in the CTV building collapse following the 2011 Christchurch earthquakes.

"While the change is not retrospective, it means that those who break the law in future will not be able to rely on this rule to escape prosecution," Little said.

The Crimes Amendment Bill also repealed a law which prohibits the publication of material that insults Christianity.

Little said the offence of blasphemous libel has not been prosecuted in New Zealand since 1922 and raises potential Bill of Rights Act concerns.

"This obsolete provision has no place in a modern society which protects freedom of expression," Little said.

"The continued existence of this offence on the statute books was out of place with New Zealand's position as a bastion of human rights, including recognising freedom of expression and religious tolerance for all faiths."


The Crimes Amendment Bill also repealed immunity from prosecution for people who assist their spouse or civil union partner by obstructing justice.

It also introduced new rules to crack down on livestock rustling.

From now on, the theft of livestock, or other animals, carries a maximum penalty of 7 years imprisonment and any unlawful entry to land used for agriculture purpose, where someone intends on stealing livestock, could result in up to 10 years' jail time.