Student Rights

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Students’ rights in the disciplinary process: Natural justice principles

What rights does a student have in the discipline process?

New Zealand Bill of Rights 1990, s 27

The law sets out specific processes that schools have to follow when standing down, suspending or expelling students (see see “Stand-downs, suspensions and expulsions”). But in all situations when students are being disciplined by schools, even when the law doesn’t set out detailed processes, students have the protection of some basic legal principles – called “natural justice”. In short, natural justice means you have to be treated fairly, and decisions affecting your rights (a suspension for example) should be made using fair processes.

These natural justice principles are guaranteed under the Bill of Rights, which covers all bodies and individuals that are carrying out a public judicial (that is, court-like) function – this includes teachers, principals and school boards making disciplinary decisions.

Education Act 1989, s 13(c)

The part of the Education Act that deals with stand-downs, suspensions and expulsions specifically refers to natural justice, saying that one of the purposes of that part of the Act is to make sure that natural justice principles are followed in these cases.

What are the principles of natural justice that apply to students?

Natural justice will usually require a school to do the following things when disciplining a student: