The Reform of the Crimes Act 1961
20 Victoria University of Wellington Law Review 9, 1990
14 Pages Posted: 13 Dec 2012 Last revised: 23 Feb 2015
Date Written: 1990
Some have asked why revision of the Crimes Act 1961 is necessary, given that it was a considerable advance on its predecessor, the consolidation of 1908. The simple answer is that the changes which have occurred in our society in the last thirty years are probably at least equivalent in significance to those which occurred between 1908 and 1961. Because we have chosen to codify all matters that give rise to criminal liability in New Zealand, it is essential that our code be as up-to-date as possible. This means that existing offences need to be revised and new offences created at reasonable intervals. At the same time, the current revision of the Crimes Act 1961 is no more than a continuation of the embodiment of the forward thinking and ample vision of legislators of the late nineteenth century. It is essential, if we are to be consistent in our law reform, that we understand the legacy left to us by law-makers.
The prevailing idea in the 1800s was that all colonies should be modelled on England. The noble institutions of the mother country were to be reproduced if at all possible. But the piecemeal approach adopted in the United Kingdom did not appeal to nineteenth century New Zealand law-makers, who regarded a Bill which would codify all indictable offences as a very attractive proposition. The Criminal Code Act of 1893 abolished many old Common Law rules, standardised and simplified criminal procedure, reduced the scope for purely technical defences and provided ample powers to amend indictments. All indictable offences became statutory, so that offenders were charged under either the Criminal Code Act or some other statute not inconsistent with it. In 1908 the Code was re-enacted and consolidated, but with little change. In 1961 a more significant revision occurred.
The article discusses the proposed amendments to the Crimes Act, including new provisions on voluntariness, omissions, intention and knowledge, recklessness, heedlessness, negligence, mistake of fact, intoxication, necessity; and revised provisions on the age of criminal responsibility, insanity and duress. As examples of what the Bill is trying to achieve, the author discusses the definitions of recklessness and heedlessness in the current law. It also discusses the current law relating to insanity, the suggested changes regarding provisions relating to murder and manslaughter, and other changes including the abolition of the death penalty (now achieved independently in the Abolition of the Death Penalty Act 1989), changes to the sedition law, and new computer offences to recognise the advent of new technology.
Keywords: New Zealand Crimes Act 1961, law reform
JEL Classification: K14
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation