Criminal law

This regulatory area encompasses the definition, deterrence, and punishment of criminal conduct. It’s critical for our democracy that we be clear and transparent about what is and isn’t acceptable conduct in our society. The criminal law should reflect both society’s and the State’s expectations for what types of behaviours should be deemed criminal conduct.

This regulatory area also provides accountability by setting out in clear and unambiguous language exactly what conduct is prohibited and precisely what elements the State must establish to punish an individual for that conduct. The variety of systems in this regulatory area is a result of the variable and changing nature of crime and the ways it can be carried out.

This area includes the following systems:

Offences against the person

This system aims to hold people to account for, and deter, offences against the person. It sets out offences and penalties for harm committed against another person, including murder, manslaughter, assault, and crimes relating to family violence and sexual violence.

Further information about offences against the person

Property offences

This system aims to protect the rights of landowners, personal property owners, infrastructure systems and occupiers. It complements civil law relating to property by providing a framework for offences against property.

The Trespass Act 1980 regulates access to private land. It provides that access to private land can be controlled by both an owner and an occupier. Part 10 of the Crimes Act 1961 includes a range of property offences.

Further information about property offences

Financial offences

The financial offences regulatory system assists in the deterrence of crime, fraud, and corruption in Aotearoa New Zealand through:

  • the detection and seizure of criminal proceeds
  • ensuring that the banking, financial and other private sectors aren’t used to facilitate crime or terrorist financing
  • requiring financial institutions to report suspicious financial transactions
  • bribery and corruption offences relevant to the private sector (‘secret commissions’)
  • establishing the Serious Fraud Office to detect and investigate cases of serious or complex fraud.

Further information about financial offences

Transnational offences

Transnational offences are crimes that have actual or potential effects across national borders. This regulatory system aims to ensure that Aotearoa New Zealand implements international obligations relating to the investigation and prosecution of transnational crimes, as well as the framework for international cooperation with other jurisdictions.

It provides safeguards and constraints to ensure that individuals subject to international criminal processes are treated fairly. It also provides accountability by making the rules for international cooperation applicable in the New Zealand context.

Further information about transnational offences

Drug offences

The Misuse of Drugs Act 1975 is primarily administered by the Ministry of Health. The Act includes powers of New Zealand Police and customs officers in relation to drug offences. It also covers the rights of people suspected of committing drug offences, and the imposition and collection of fines relating to drug dealing offences.

The Ministry of Justice administers part of the Act by virtue of the Misuse of Drugs Amendment Act 1978 that inserted Part 2. Part 2 provides special provisions relating to detection, enforcement, and sentencing.

Further information about drug offences

Technology-based offences

This system aims to hold people to account for, and deter, crimes that are committed using technology, or for which the commission of the offence is made easier by technology. 

The Crimes Act 1961 provides for offences of assessing computer systems for a dishonest purpose and related offences.  The Search and Surveillance Act 2012 makes it an offence not to provide access information to computers or electronic devices in certain circumstances when offending is suspected.  The purpose of the Harmful Digital Communications Act 2015 is to deter, prevent, and mitigate harm caused to individuals by digital communications; and to provide victims of harmful digital communications with a quick and efficient means of redress.

This system aims to ensure that offences committed by using computers and electronic devices can be punished and deterred.

Further information about technology-based offences

Infringement offences and public order offences

The infringement and public order offence system sets out a process for dealing with predominantly low-level offending outside of the usual criminal court process. It aims to keep low-level offending out of the court system, while providing the ability for those issued with infringement offences to challenge the notice in appropriate circumstances.

Infringement fees are imposed by legislation in other regulatory systems for low-level offending. The Summary Proceedings Act 1957 then sets out the process if a fee is unpaid.

Further information about infringement offences and public order offences

Key statutes
  • Summary Offences Act 1981
  • Summary Proceedings Act 1957

Regulatory offences

This system encompasses the Ministry’s work overseeing the offence and penalty regimes set out in legislation and regulatory systems administered by other agencies, for example, traffic offences (Ministry of Transport) and biosecurity offences (Ministry for Primary Industries).

The Ministry vets all proposals to create new criminal offences or penalties, or alter existing ones, to ensure that such provisions are consistent with the rule of law. This includes ensuring that proposed offences and penalties are a rational and proportionate approach to holding people to account for, and deterring people from, the offending behaviour, providing appropriate procedural safeguards, and that they are consistent across all legislation.

The Ministry also monitors how changes in offences and penalties and regulatory systems administered by other agencies might impact on the criminal justice system as a whole; for example, in the volume of cases coming before the courts, and the links between offending behaviour and its broader drivers.

Further information on offences or penalties can be found on the Legislation Design and Advisory Committee’s website at:

Legislation Guidelines (2021 edition)(external link) 

The above Guidelines are a guide to making good legislation.