Crimes Act 1961

The Crimes Act 1961 is an Act of the Parliament of New Zealand that forms a leading part of the criminal law in New Zealand. It repeals the Crimes Act 1908,[1] itself a successor of the Criminal Code Act 1893, and partially codifies the criminal law in New Zealand. Most crimes in New Zealand are created by the Crimes Act, but some are created elsewhere. All common law offences are abolished by section 9, as are all offences against Acts of the British Parliaments,[2] but section 20 saves the old common law defences where they are not specifically altered.[3]

Crimes Act
New Zealand Parliament
Royal assent1 November 1961
Commenced1 January 1962
Amended by
Crimes (Substituted Section 59) Amendment Act 2007
Crimes Amendment Act (No 2) 2008
Related legislation
  • Criminal Procedure Act 2011
  • Sentencing Act 2002
Status: Current legislation

The Act is administered by the Ministry of Justice.

Punishments (Part 2)

Section 14 of the Crimes Act 1961 allowed death sentences. However, due to growing general public opposition to the death penalty, reformist New Zealand National Party Minister of Justice Ralph Hanan and other National MPs exercised a conscience vote and voted with the abolitionist New Zealand Labour Party to forbid judges passing sentence of death other than in cases of treason. That was the functional abolition in New Zealand, with no one executed after this date. In 1989, the death penalty was formally abolished by the Fourth Labour Government.

Matters of justification or excuse (Part 3)

Includes infancy, insanity, compulsion, ignorance of law, sentence or process, arrest, use of force, breach of the peace, defence against assault, defence of property, peaceable entry, powers of discipline, surgical procedures, and other general provisions.

Sections 21 and 22 establish the defence of infancy. Children aged under 10 years old are assumed incapable of committing a crime and cannot be charged with any crime. Children aged between 10 and 13 years inclusive have the rebuttable presumption of incapacity to commit a crime; they cannot be charged unless the prosecution can prove the child knew what they were doing was a criminal offence.

Sections 50 and 169 dealt with the provocation defence which mitigated fatal assaults to the lesser charge and penalty due to manslaughter, rather than murder. It was abolished through multipartisan consent in 2009, with the exception of the ACT New Zealand party.

The Crimes (Substituted Section 59) Amendment Act 2007 abolished Section 59 of the Crimes Act, which had previously allowed parental corporal punishment of children, despite opposition from religious social conservatives and others.

Crimes against public order (Part 5)

Includes treason and other crimes against the Queen and the State; offence of oath to commit offence; unlawful assemblies, riots, and breaches of the peace; piracy; slave dealing; participation in criminal gang; and smuggling and trafficking in people.

Section(s) of ActANZSOC codeOffenceMaximum penalty (imprisonment)
– conspiracy or attempt
Life imprisonment (mandatory)
14 years
77Mutiny10 years
78Espionage14 years
791559Sabotage10 years
871313Riot2 years
92–941559Piracy14 years
980521Dealing in slaves14 years
98AParticipation in organised criminal group10 years
98CSmuggling migrants20 years

Crimes affecting the administration of law and justice (Part 6)

Includes bribery and corruption; contravention of statute; misleading justice; and escapes and rescues

Section(s) of ActANZSOC codeOffenceMaximum penalty (imprisonment)
101Bribery of judicial officer7 years
102Corruption and bribery of Minister of the Crown
– Ministers receiving bribes
– people giving bribes

14 years
7 years
103Corruption and bribery of Member of Parliament7 years
1041542Corruption and bribery of law enforcement officer7 years
1091561Perjury7 to 14 years
1101561False oaths5 years
1111561False statements and declarations3 years
1191511Breaking prison7 years

Crimes against religion, morality and public welfare (Part 7)

Includes crimes against religion; crimes against morality and decency; sexual crimes; sexual offences outside New Zealand; and crimes against public welfare.

Section(s) of ActANZSOC codeOffenceMaximum penalty (imprisonment)
128–128B0311Sexual violation (incl. rape)20 years
1290311Attempted sexual violation, assault with intent to commit sexual violation10 years
1300311Incest10 years
1310311Sexual conduct with dependent family member
– sexual connection
– attempted sexual connection
– indecent act

7 years
7 years
3 years
131B0321Meeting young person following sexual grooming, etc.7 years
1320311Sexual conduct with a child under 12
– sexual connection
– attempted sexual connection
– indecent act

14 years
10 years
10 years
1340311Sexual conduct with a young person under 16
– sexual connection
– attempted sexual connection
– indecent act

10 years
10 years
7 years
1350312Indecent assault7 years
1431325Bestiality7 years
144ASexual conduct with children and young people outside New Zealandas per sections 132 and 134
144C0321Organising or promoting child sex tours7 years
150Misconduct in respect to human remains (illegal exhumation, necrophilia)2 years

Section 123 of the Crimes Act dealt with blasphemy. Charges could only be brought through permission of the New Zealand Solicitor-General, which was usually not forthcoming,with no prosecutions since 1922, [4] given modern religious pluralism and free speech sensibilities.The offence of blasphemy was abolished in 2019.

The Crimes Amendment Act (No 3) 1985 (commenced 1 February 1986) criminalised marital rape and added the offence of sexual violation by unlawful sexual connection, criminalising female-on-male sexual violation and expanding sexual violation to include anal and oral intercourse.

The Homosexual Law Reform Act 1986 amended the Crimes Act, allowing for consensual homosexual relationships between men.

The Crimes Amendment Act 2005 (commenced 20 July 2005) changed made most sexual offences gender-neutral. This closed a legal loophole which prevented adult females from being convicted of sexual offending against boys under 16.

Section 144A of the Crimes Act deals with New Zealand citizens and ordinary residents that commit acts of child sexual abuse in overseas jurisdictions through child sex tourism. It applies existing prohibitions against sexual connection and indecent acts with children under twelve and young people to children within overseas jurisdictions. Under Section 144C, it is also illegal to promote child sex tourism overseas from New Zealand.

In 2003, the Prostitution Law Reform Act 2003 decriminalised sex work, removing sections 147-149A of the Crimes Act, which had formerly prohibited most forms of prostitution in New Zealand through maintaining criminal penalties against soliciting, living off the proceeds of sex work, brothel-keeping and managing sex workers.

Crimes against the person (Part 8)

Includes duties tending to the preservation of life; homicide; murder and manslaughter; abortion; assaults and injuries to the person; female genital mutilation; bigamy and feigned marriage; and abduction and kidnapping.

Section(s) of ActANZSOC codeOffenceMaximum penalty (imprisonment)
1720111MurderLife imprisonment
1730121Attempt to murder14 years
1750100Conspiracy to murder10 years
1770131ManslaughterLife imprisonment
1780131Infanticide3 years
1790131Aiding and abetting suicide14 years
1820131Killing unborn child14 years
1831695Procuring abortion14 years
1880211, 0212Wounding with intent7 to 14 years
1890211, 0212Injuring with intent5 to 10 years
1920211, 0212Aggravated assault3 years
1960213Common assault1 year
1980299Discharging firearm or doing dangerous act with intent7 to 14 years
198A0211, 0212Using any firearm against law enforcement officer, etc.10 to 17 years
198B0211, 0212Commission of crime with firearm10 years
204A-204BFemale genital mutilation and ancillary offences7 years
2061329Bigamy2 to 14 years
2080511Abduction for purposes of marriage or sexual connection14 years
2090511Kidnapping14 years

The Sentencing Act 2002 changed the penalty for murder from mandatory life imprisonment to presumptive life imprisonment; sentencing judges now may waive the mandatory life imprisonment requirement and give a lesser sentence in exceptional ("manifestly unjust") circumstances.

There have been two attempts thus far to introduce regulated euthanasia in New Zealand through abolition of Section 179 of the Crimes Act 1961 and replacement with a liberalised regulatory regime, in 1995 and 2003. Both failed.

Section 187A of the Crimes Act was inserted in 1978. It provides access criteria for abortion in New Zealand and is the subject of perennial debates between the Abortion Law Reform Association of New Zealand (pro-choice) and the New Zealand right-to-life movement over greater restriction, maintenance and complete decriminalisation of abortion.

Section 204A outlaws female genital mutilation within New Zealand, while Section 204B deals with ancillary and related offences.

Crimes against rights of property (Part 10)

Section(s) of ActANZSOC codeOffenceMaximum penalty (imprisonment)
220–2230811, 0813, 0821, 0823, 0829, 0991Theft or stealing
– by persons in special relationship
– value $1001 or more
– value $501 to $1000
– value up to $500

7 years
7 years
1 year
3 months
2310711Burglary10 years
2340612Robbery10 years
2430831Money laundering5 to 7 years
2500499Damaging or interfering with computer system7 to 10 years
2560921, 0922Forgery3 to 10 years
2660921Counterfeiting7 years
2671211Arson7 to 14 years

Threatening, conspiring, and attempting to commit offences (Part 11)

Section(s) of ActANZSOC codeOffenceMaximum penalty (imprisonment)
3060532Threatening to kill or do grievous bodily harm7 years
310Conspiring to commit offence (where not explicitly stated elsewhere)7 years or the maximum imprisonment for the crime, whichever is less
312Accessory after the fact to crime (where not explicitly stated elsewhere)
– to crimes punishable by life imprisonment
– to all other crimes

7 years
5 years or half the maximum imprisonment for the crime, whichever is less

See also


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