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Classification enforcement, offences and penalties

This page has information about how the Classification Act is enforced - including the role of Customs, the Police and the Department of Internal Affairs. It also has information about the offence provisions and associated penalties.

If you are an official (such as a Customs officer or member of the New Zealand Police) and would like more information on submitting publications for classification, see the Officials section.

Judge's gavel

Role of the Classification Office

The Classification Office does not have an enforcement role in the classification system.

The role of the Classification Office is to examine and classify publications and to provide information about the classification system. We provide information, resources and advice in order to help people comply with the law, but we do not have an enforcement role.

Responsibility for enforcing the Classification Act

Customs, the Police and Inspectors at the Department of Internal Affairs are responsible for enforcement of the Classification Act.

Enforcement of New Zealand's classification law is the primary responsibility of Inspectors of Publications in the Censorship Compliance Unit at the Department of Internal Affairs. The Police are also Inspectors of Publications and both they and Customs Officers perform important roles in classification system enforcement.

Examples of classification system enforcement

Whose responsibilityFilms, DVDs, games and other publicationsComputer files and material on the internet
The Censorship Compliance Unit, Department of Internal Affairs
  • Investigate complaints from members of the public
  • Monitor compliance with labelling and display requirements
  • Help to ensure that the decisions of the Classification Office are adhered to
  • Seize potentially objectionable material such as films, DVDs, games, books and magazines
  • Monitor internet chat rooms, social networking and file sharing sites in order to stop the distribution of objectionable content online
  • Have the power to seize hard drives, phones, SD cards and other storage devices which may contain objectionable material
  • Maintain the Digital Child Exploitation Filtering System (an internet and website filter made available to New Zealand Internet Service Providers)
Online Child Exploitation Across New Zealand - OCEANZ (a specialist Police team)  
  • Coordinate international operations into online paedophile networks
  • Identify child sexual offenders by electronically patrolling social network websites
  • Target New Zealand child exploitation sites
New Zealand Customs Service
  • Seize potentially objectionable films, DVDs and games in order to prevent them entering New Zealand
  • Seize devices (such as laptops or SD cards) which may contain objectionable material in order to prevent them entering New Zealand

Submitting material to the Classification Office

Officials from the Censorship Compliance Unit, the Police and the Customs Service may submit potentially objectionable material for classification.

The Censorship Compliance Unit can submit films, games and other publications as a result of a complaint. They may also submit unclassified material if they think an age restriction may be necessary.

Prosecutions and the Courts

Committing an offence under the Classification Act can lead to fines or imprisonment. Prosecutions are carried out by Police, Customs and the Censorship Compliance Unit.

Cases involving objectionable material may lead to a jury trial. If a defendant does not agree with the prosecution that material is objectionable, it will be submitted to the Classification Office for examination and classification - a judge or jury does not have the power to decide whether or not a publication is objectionable.

Offences and penalties under the Classification Act

The Classification Act and its Regulations outline classification and labelling requirements, the availability of restricted material, and the prohibition of objectionable content. The offence provisions outline the penalties if the law is broken.

Offences relating to making, possessing and distributing objectionable content are serious criminal offences - distributing objectionable material, for example, can result in a maximum of 14 years imprisonment.

Plain English Guide to the Offence Provisions

The following PDF is a plain English guide to the offence provisions in the Classification Act (and its regulations) to which penalties may apply. It also includes some provisions which clarify when and how these offences and penalties apply.

Plain English Guide to the Offence Provisions (PDF, 679KB)

This guide will be helpful if you are looking for information about specific offences and penalties but it is not a complete list. The offence provisions in full can be read on the New Zealand Government's legislation website:

Useful links

Example page of our Plain English Guide
Example page of our Plain English Guide to the Offence Provisions

Contact details and further information

Censorship Compliance Unit website

The Censorship Compliance Unit at the Department of Internal Affairs

Freephone: 0800 257 887

For further information go to the Censorship Compliance section of the Department of Internal Affairs website.

If you have a censorship-related complaint you should contact the Censorship Compliance Unit at the Department of Internal Affairs.

New Zealand Customs website

New Zealand Customs Service

Freephone: 0800 428 786

For further information go to the NZ Customs Service website.

New Zealand Police website

New Zealand Police

If you have any concerns that someone you know, or know of, is involved in the sexual exploitation of children, or may be using the internet or other electronic means to behave in an inappropriate or criminal way towards children, you should contact OCEANZ (Online Child Exploitation Across New Zealand - a specialist Police team).

Contact OCEANZ via the Police website.

Go to the New Zealand Police website for more information about OCEANZ