The Voting Age of 18 is Unjustified Age Discrimination under the Bill of Rights

We are taking the Government to Court! One of the first things we did in the campaign was launch a court case, and it's still going. The Supreme Court has agreed to hear our case and we will be putting our arguments to them later this year.

What is the case about?


We believe that preventing 16 and 17 year-olds from voting is unjustified age discrimination under the Bill of Rights. 


But what does that mean? 


Firstly, the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990 protects against age discrimination. Section 19 of the Act says the Government can’t discriminate based on the grounds in listed s 21 of the Human Rights Act 1993, which includes age discrimination for those 16 and above. Therefore, preventing 16 and 17 year-olds from voting breaches their right to be free from age discrimination.


But that is not the end of the road. Section 5 of the Bill of Rights says that rights (including the right to be free from age discrimination) can be “reasonably limited” without breaching the Bill of Rights if those limits are justified. We believe there is no such justification, and therefore it is a breach of our fundamental rights.

It is unjustified age discrimination.


What do we want from the Courts?


We are seeking a declaration that the parts of the Electoral Act 1993 and Local Government Electoral Act 2001 that prevent 16 and 17 year-olds from voting are in breach of the Bill of Rights. That is a bit technical, but it basically means the Courts formally telling the world, and Parliament in particular, that our rights have been unjustifiably breached.


What is our case not about?


Our case is only about our right to be free from age discrimination. That means it is not explicitly about the right to vote. That’s because s 12 of the Bill of Rights (which deals with voting rights) sadly has the age of 18 baked in. Obviously we would prefer if that changed, but it shouldn’t stop us from saying we have been discriminated against; because we have!


How is the case doing?


We first filed in the High Court back in 2019, and we got a decision from Justice Doogue in late 2020. Unfortunately, while she decided there was age discrimination she found that discrimination was justified.


So, we appealed to the Court of Appeal (the next one up). In that case we… kinda won? The 3 judges on the case found that there was age discrimination and that the Government hadn’t justified it (disagreeing with the High Court on the second point). Basically that means they agreed with our key arguments. BUT they decided they had the discretion to decline to issue the formal declaration of inconsistency. In other words, while there was age discrimination the government coudn’t justify, they decided they didn’t have to formally say that. The reason they gave is that it is simply too political for the Courts.


We find that result both frustrating and encouraging. Frustrating because they agreed with our core arguments but declined to say it formally, but encouraging because it means we can now go to Parliament and tell them that our country’s second-highest Court has decided that our rights have been breached and they should really do something about that. 


That brings us to where we are now. The Supreme Court has agreed to hear our case and hopefully we will get a hearing date soon. We look forward to the opportunity for the highest Court in Aotearoa to declare that preventing 16 and 17-year-olds from voting is a breach of the Bill of Rights.


Who is funding the case?


Our amazing lawyers are working pro bono as they are passionate about building a better and more inclusive democracy. We are eternally grateful for the incredible generosity, skill and experience they bring to our case.