New Maritime Powers Act 2022

The Maritime Powers Act 2022 (the Act) came into force on 21 May 2022. It aims to address gaps in New Zealand’s domestic legislation and provide clarity for New Zealand law enforcement agencies.

The Act was enacted in response to growing concerns regarding New Zealand’s ability to react to maritime security threats or criminal activity in international waters. Its purpose is two-fold; to provide clear powers for the enforcement of New Zealand’s criminal law in international waters and to uphold New Zealand’s rights and obligations under international law, particularly the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea and international human rights law.

As noted in the Commentary of the Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Committee, following the Select Committee stage of the legislation, these goals would best be achieved by “essentially extending, with appropriate modifications, New Zealand’s domestic law enforcement powers regarding serious criminal offences into international waters.”

The geographical application of the Act is to international waters and foreign waters (s 11). It defines extraterritorial offences in s 5 to include acts, omissions, or offences for which the person is liable on conviction to imprisonment for life or to 2 or more years’ imprisonment. Some examples of extraterritorial offences which are covered by the Act are included in s 5.

An enforcement officer must have ‘reasonable grounds’ to suspect conduct which contravenes the Act before taking action (s 16). The consent from the Attorney-General must be obtained before any proceedings for the trial and punishment of a person charged with threatening, obstructing, or failing to comply with an enforcement officer are commenced (s 36).

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