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Discipline and rules

Your rights in the disciplinary process: Natural justice

What is natural justice?

New Zealand Bill of Rights 1990, s 27; Education and Training Act 2020, s 78

Natural justice means you have to be treated fairly, and decisions affecting your rights are made using fair processes. You have the protection of these basic legal principles, even if law doesn’t set out a detailed process.

Natural justice principles are guaranteed under the Bill of Rights, which applies to teachers, principals and school boards making decisions about punishments or suspensions.

The part of the Education and Training Act that deals with stand-downs, suspensions and expulsions specifically refers to natural justice. It says that one of the purposes of that part of the Act is to make sure that natural justice principles are followed during stand-downs, suspensions and expulsions processes.

What are the principles of natural justice?

“Natural justice principles” are legal concepts that are designed to make sure you are treated fairly. If you have broken a rule, or someone believes you have broken a rule, the following principles apply:

  • Right to be heard – You have the right to speak and be listened to. If a teacher thinks you’ve broken a school rule, they should talk to you and tell you exactly what the problem is. They should also explain how your behaviour has affected others at the school (if it has). You should then be given a chance to explain what happened.
    • Depending on the situation, the principal needs to contact your parents or guardians. For example, if you are suspended, the principal must let your parents or guardians know, and should also give them a chance to explain things from their point of view.
  • No pre-judging – The school staff have to approach decisions about punishments with open minds, and without assuming what happened. For example, it would be pre-judging if the board sent you a letter saying that they had made a decision about a suspension, but you hadn’t had a suspension meeting yet.
  • No bias or personal motives – The school has to make decisions without bias and in good faith. They can’t have “personal malice” towards you, or any other “improper motives”.
    • Bias is when someone might not treat you fairly, or might be prejudiced against you. For example, there could be bias if a staff member who is deciding how to punish you is related to someone involved in an incident. Or, they have information about you that might impact their decision – like if a teacher knew about you from a previous school and treated you unfairly based on things that happened at the previous school.
    • Personal malice and improper motives describe situations where, for example, a teacher or the school board punishes you because they dislike you, or want to remove you from school because of something unrelated.
  • Flexibility – The school can’t apply a rule or policy without looking at your situation. For example, if there was a rule saying you’ll be suspended for drinking on school grounds, the school can’t automatically suspend you without taking into account how this would affect your ability to pass NCEA.

Courts use these principles when they are reviewing decisions made by schools about punishments. For example, if you went to court to challenge the school board’s decision to expel you, the judge can use natural justice principles to check that you were treated fairly.

Next Section | Restorative justice

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