The Supreme Court - the highest court in Aotearoa -  took less than 15 minutes to deliver a judgement around the country’s voting laws this morning - but its significance is huge.

Aotearoa’s highest court has declared the law preventing 16- and 17-year-olds from voting is inconsistent with the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act. 

Caeden Tipler from Make it 16, a youth-led group that has been calling for the voting age to be lowered to 16, says it’s an historic judgement.

“The Supreme Court has said that a voting age of 18 is a human rights violation for 16- and 17- year olds,” the co-director says.

Today’s ruling is the latest in a long legal bid launched by the Make It 16 campaign to have a “declaration of inconsistency” declared around New Zealand’s voting age.

A “declaration of inconsistency” is a formal statement by a court or tribunal that an Act is inconsistent with fundamental human rights protected by the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act.

A High Court ruling on the matter last year found that keeping the voting age restricted to people 18 and over “was justified in democratic society”. 

Make It 16 then took its case to the Court of Appeal

While that judgement found New Zealand’s Attorney-General had not “discharged the burden of proof” to justify the age limit for voting, it declined to make the declaration of inconsistency and dismissed Make It 16’s appeal. 

The Court of Appeal said the matter was “intensely and quintessentially political”.

However, Make It 16 was granted leave to appeal its case to the Supreme Court - and today the court ruled that preventing 16- and-17-year-olds from voting is an unjustified breach of their right to be free from age discrimination.

What happens now?

Tipler says the Make It 16 movement is celebrating today’s ruling.

“We've known for this whole campaign that we should lower the voting age, but it's exciting to now have the legal backing for it as well,” they say.

“But obviously the mahi isn't finished because the Supreme Court can't lower the voting age on its own.

“There is [now] a formal review process that Parliament will follow to debate and review our declaration of inconsistency.”

That review process was created after an amendment to the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act this year. 

The amendment deals specifically with “declarations of inconsistency”. 

The law change means Parliament has a legal obligation to review today’s declaration.

Rallying support in Government

Tipler says Make It 16 will now focus on lobbying MPs to lower the voting age.

The Green Party has already come out in support of the move, calling on the Government to take action now.

Green Party electoral reform spokesperson Golriz Ghahraman says “young people deserve to have a say in the decisions that affect them, both now and in the future”.

“The judgement of the Court finds that Parliament has for decades been in breach of young people’s basic human rights. 

“Now is the time to do what’s right and strengthen our democracy to include the voices of 16- and 17-year-olds.”

Meanwhile, ACT leader David Seymour is rejecting the calls to lower the voting age.

“We don’t want 120,000 more voters who pay no tax voting for lots more spending. The Supreme Court needs to stick to its knitting and quit the judicial activism,” he says.

“There is nothing stopping 16-year-olds from getting involved in politics already if they’re so inclined and ACT encourages them to do so. 

“The more [politically] savvy and tuned in people are when they do become eligible to vote the better.”

According to 1News, National Party leader Christopher Luxon said lowering the voting age was not something National supported

"We're comfortable with the line being 18. Lots of different countries have different places where the line's drawn and from our point of view, 18's just fine," Luxon said. 

Tipler says if politicians don’t support lowering the voting age, they are letting rangatahi down. 

“It doesn't get any more significant than a human rights violation,” they say. 

“The fact that New Zealand takes pride in our human rights standards and that we wish to uphold those standards means that we need to support lowering the voting age.”

Top photo: Make It 16 campaigners celebrate outside the Supreme Court. Photo: 1News

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