• Make It 16

Supreme Court declares preventing 16 and 17 year-olds from voting is a breach of the Bill of Rights

In a landmark judgment issued on Monday 21 November te Kōti Mana Nui o Aotearoa | the New Zealand Supreme Court declared that the current law preventing 16 and 17 year-olds from voting is inconsistent with the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990.


“This is history” says Make It 16 co-director Caeden Tipler (they/them). “Today New Zealand’s highest court has confirmed that stopping young people from voting is a breach of our human rights. Preventing me and other 16 and 17 year-olds from voting is an unjustified breach of our right to be free from age discrimination. The government and Parliament cannot ignore such a clear legal and moral message. They must let us vote.”


“This is only the second time the Supreme Court has ever issued a declaration of inconsistency. The first one was about the right of prisoners to vote, and that triggered Parliament to change the law. The same must happen for 16 and 17 year-olds.”


“Because of a recent law change, the Government and Parliament both have a legal obligation to review the declaration. That process should result in a voting age of 16.”


“If the government does not make the voting age 16 now then they are consciously breaching our human rights.”


“It is notable as well that this declaration covers both local and general elections and also referendums. Young people deserve to have a say in the buses we take, the roads we drive on, and the public spaces we use. The Future of Local Government review has already recommended a voting age of 16 for local elections. Making this change at a local level would be a tangible step in giving young people our say.”


“This decision reinforces the growing chorus in favour of a voting age of 16. Over 7,400 New Zealanders showed their support for our movement by signing our petition, as did 72 Local Government Elected Members when they signed an open letter calling for the voting age to be lowered to 16 for local elections.


“We started this journey in the courts three years ago, filing in the High Court in late 2019. We would like to say a particular thank you to our lawyers for sticking with us through three courts all pro bono.”



Editor’s notes

  • The Court's judgement is available here: https://www.courtsofnz.govt.nz/assets/cases/2022/2022-NZSC-134.pdf

  • The future of Local Government Review draft report, which recommended a voting age of 16 for local elections, can be found here: https://www.futureforlocalgovernment.govt.nz/assets/Reports/Draft-report-final.pdf

  • Amongst other things, the Independent Electoral Law Review is currently looking into the voting age

  • Make It 16’s claim is based on the inconsistency between s 19 of the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990—which protects against age discrimination for those over 16—and the provisions in the Electoral Act 1993 and Local Electoral Act 2001 which set the voting age at 18..

  • To lower the voting age of Local Elections requires only a 51% majority in Parliament. To lower the voting age for General Elections requires a 75% majority in Parliament or a referendum. Make It 16 does not support a referendum.

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