This is a single section from Chapter 24. Read the full chapter here.

What conduct is to be prohibited?

Legislation must precisely define the prohibited conduct.

Criminal law marks the legal boundary of individual liberty. Offences must be defined clearly so that people know what is and what is not prohibited. Therefore, it is necessary to consider exactly what conduct (called the actus reus) is prohibited by a criminal offence.[1] The description of the conduct should be precise and rationally connected with the harm targeted by the policy objective.

An imprecise statement of the prohibited conduct may lead to inconsistent enforcement of the law, uncertain application of the law, unintended changes in behaviour, or failure to preclude conduct that it was intended to prohibit.

General provisions (such as “every breach of this Act is an offence”) are not acceptable as they may capture a range of conduct that is too wide and not intended to be subject to the criminal law.

Any proposal to apply the criminal law to conduct occurring outside New Zealand (extraterritorial conduct) should be discussed with the Ministry of Justice early in the policy development process because this is relatively unusual and subject to unique considerations.


[1] Actus reus is the Latin phrase used in the criminal law to refer generally to the conduct that is prohibited by an offence (and which may encompass behaviour, consequences, or circumstances).

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