People who make false allegations about the judiciary could be held in contempt of court under a new law passed in Parliament last night.
The National Party opposed the bill, saying it unduly restricted free speech, but the Government has used National MP Nick Smith's 2004 conviction to justify the Contempt of Court bill, which passed its third reading last night.
Smith was found to have tried to improperly influence the Family Court by undermining its integrity, but he has remained unrepentant, saying his contempt of court conviction shows his willingness to stand up for his Nelson constituents.
Smith had advocated for a couple's custody case after their son had been placed with a caregiver. He had asked the caregiver if she felt guilty for stealing the child, adding that Parliament was the highest court in the land and everyone was answerable to Parliament.
Under the bill, a person can be held in contempt of court if they make a statement that is factually incorrect, known to be incorrect and intended to undermine public confidence in the judiciary.
Smith repeatedly sparred with Justice Minister Andrew Little during the bill's third reading last night.
When Smith told the House that National supported free speech, Little interjected: "Putting yourself above the law. That member put himself above the law."
Smith continued, referencing controversial legal cases including Arthur Allan Thomas, David Bain and Peter Ellis.
"It is my view that our judicial system is made stronger and that our system of law in being able to challenge and question is fundamental to a liberal democracy."
Little: "Not affected by the law — not affected."
Smith: "The charge of a criminal offence will have a silencing effect. It will have a chilling effect on responsible people being able to properly question and challenge the intent of our judiciary."
Little: "The member is just totally wrong."
Smith said like-minded countries including Canada, the US and the UK did not make it a crime to criticise the courts, but Little used the UK as a case of why the bill was needed.
He cited a 2016 front page of the Daily Mail that called judges "enemies of the people" over a ruling about Brexit.
"Absolutely appalling - absolutely appalling - and in any other civilised country, the Daily Mail would have been held in contempt of court," Little said.
"Well, that can now happen in New Zealand, because we cannot have the situation where our courts, whose duty and responsibility it is to administer the law impartially and without fear or favour, come under that sort of egregious, indefensible attack."
The bill also means that jurors can be fined if they sought out their own information beyond the courtroom, including on the internet.
The bill was originally in the name of former National Minister and Attorney-General Chris Finlayson - who has said he was "bemused" by National's opposition to it - but it was adopted by the Government.
It passed with the support of Labour, New Zealand First and the Greens, with National, Act and Jami-Lee Ross opposing.