A constitution sets out the rules of public power. It says who has power, what they can do with it, what the checks and balances are, and what citizens’ rights are. New Zealand’s constitution is in many different places, including New Zealand and British Acts of Parliament, the common law, and unwritten conventions. Wouldn’t it be better if the main rules were written in one place so people could find and understand them?
Can you find New Zealand’s rules of public power?
According to one study, NZ’s constitution is located in 45 Acts of Parliament (including six passed in England dating back to medieval times), 12 international treaties, nine areas of common law, eight constitutional conventions, and various other instruments. See above for more detail.
For Acts of Parliament see New Zealand Legislation. For conventions, letters patent and common law parts of the constitution, see the Cabinet Office Manual. Also see NZ Parliament, The New Zealand Constitution.
Shouldn’t the rules be written in one place?
One of the clear findings of the 2013 Constitutional Advisory Panel was that few New Zealanders understand the country’s constitution, and most find it hard to find. Not all New Zealanders know that the country even has a constitution.
The panel found there was a ‘consensus’ that the Constitution needs to be more accessible and easier to understand, and said that one way of doing that might be to assemble all constitutional provisions in one law.
This is one of the main proposals of A Constitution for Aotearoa New Zealand.
New Zealand’s current constitutional arrangements are almost impossible for ordinary New Zealanders to find or understand. They consist of a jumble of statutes from New Zealand and the United Kingdom, as well as court decisions, letters patent, and conventions.
You can read more about our proposal in chapter 1 of A Constitution for Aotearoa New Zealand.