Update (24/05/2022):

An independent panel will lead a review of New Zealand's electoral law.

Justice Minister Kris Faafoi today said “we do have a world-class electoral system. But we need to make sure the rules remain fit for purpose and meet the needs of our future voters".

The Government announced the review last year which will take place in two parts - a broad review led by the independent panel over the next 18 months and targeted changes ahead of the 2023 General Election.

The Independent Review will look at election rules such as voting age and overseas voting.

The independent panel’s final report is expected by the end of 2023.

This announcement comes after Green Party MP Golriz Ghahraman's Electoral (Strengthening Democracy) Amendment Bill was pulled from the biscuit tin last week. 

This bill aims to make changes in seven areas including extending the vote to 16 and 17-year-olds. 

In April, Re: reported that youth-led group Make it 16 who have been calling for the voting age to be lowered will take their case to the Supreme Court. 

Here's what you need to know. 

This story was first published on April 13, 2022.

After taking its case to the High Court and the Court of Appeal, Make It 16 - a youth-led group calling for the voting age to be lowered to 16 - will now be taking their case to the Supreme Court - the highest court in New Zealand. 

Teenagers under the age of 18 can join the army, work, drive, pay taxes and leave home - so why can’t they vote? That’s the question being asked by the group. 

Two years after first taking its case to the High Court, the group has been granted leave to appeal its case to the Supreme Court. 

Leave to appeal means the Supreme Court will hear a case because it is satisfied that it is necessary in the interests of justice.

The group's legal team will now argue for a Declaration of Inconsistency. This is a formal statement made by a court that says a rule is inconsistent with fundamental human rights.

In this case, Make It 16 believes that teenagers under 18 not being allowed to vote is a breach of fundamental human rights. 

'Looking at justification of limiting rights of 16 and 17 year olds required'

When the group took its case to the High Court, its lawyers argued that parts of the Electoral Act 1993 and the Local Electoral Act 2001, which sets the lowest voting age at 18 was “inconsistent” with the right to be free from age discrimination, as part of the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990

But the High Court found that although setting the voting age at 18 did discriminate against 16 and 17 year olds, it was a “limitation on the right against age discrimination that was justified in democratic society” and voting age provisions did not breach the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990

Make It 16 later took its case, between itself and the Attorney-General, to the Court of Appeal. 

In a judgment released last Decemberthe Court of Appeal judgment found the Attorney-General had failed to “discharge the burden of proof” to justify the existing age limit. 

Looking at the justification of limiting the rights of 16 and 17 year olds was required, the judgment found. 

“The matter is intensely and quintessentially political involving the democratic process itself,” the judgement said.

“Further the matter is very much in the public arena already including being part of a recently announced review of electoral law. We choose to exercise restraint and decline the application for declarations.” 

In a new judgment of the court, released on the Supreme Court's website on Wednesday, along with the granting of leave of appeal, it said "the approved question is whether the Court of Appeal was correct to dismiss the appeal".

'Amazing opportunity to have our case heard'

Make It 16 co-director Cate Tipler told Re: that the group was stoked and felt the Supreme Court had make the right decision.

"It's an amazing opportunity to have our case heard," they said. 

This also meant rangatahi would get their day in the Supreme Court, Tipler said. 

"Preventing me and other 16 and 17 year-olds from voting is unjustified age discrimination."

If the Supreme Court made a formal declaration, this would send a powerful message to Parliament, Tipler said.

"It would force Parliament and the Government to see this as a priority and boost the movement for change."

Fellow co-director, Sanat Singh, said "we are asking the Supreme Court to formally say there is unjustified age discrimination, because we know there is".

A date for the hearing at the Supreme Court is yet to be set. 

Top Image: A voting sign on display outside a polling booth during election day on October 17, 2020 in Wellington. (File photo) Photo: Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images

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