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New Zealand Constitutional Law – Global Legal Collection Highlights

Next week we will be saying a sad farewell to the Lincoln Cathedral’s 1215 Magna Carta that has been on display here at the Library of Congress since last November.  Needless to say, we’ve all learned a lot about the history of this document and its impact in England, here in the U.S., and around the world.  In discussing this impact with colleagues, I noted that in New Zealand one clause from the 1297 restatement of Magna Carta officially remains on the statute books, being chapter 29:

Imprisonment, etc contrary to law. Administration of justice

NO freeman shall be taken or imprisoned, or be disseised of his freehold, or liberties, or free customs, or be outlawed, or exiled, or any other wise destroyed; nor will we not pass upon him, nor condemn him, but by lawful judgment of his peers, or by the law of the land. We will sell to no man, we will not deny or defer to any man either justice or right.

New Zealand map

New Zealand administrative divisions. (Central Intelligence Agency, 2006.) (Library of Congress Geography and Map Division.)

Of course it is this clause (chapters 39 and 40 in the original 1215 Magna Carta) that is perhaps the most famous of the Magna Carta chapters.  Note that this clause, among a handful of others, is also part of the statute law of the United Kingdom.  New Zealand, like the United Kingdom, does not have a sole document that forms a codified, entrenched constitution that is supreme law.  Instead, the current constitution developed over time and is made up of a number of sources, including particular statutes, court decisions, and unwritten constitutional conventions, and it “increasingly reflects the fact that the Treaty of Waitangi [between the British Crown and Māori chiefs] is regarded as a founding document of government in New Zealand.”  Therefore, while it includes aspects of the British constitution, New Zealand’s constitution is unique.

The statutes include modern laws passed by the New Zealand legislature, such as the Constitution Act 1986, the Electoral Act 1993, and the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990, as well as several English and United Kingdom statutes.  In addition to Magna Carta 1297, these include the Bill of Rights 1688 and the Act of Settlement 1700.  The application of these and other statutes was confirmed by the Imperial Laws Application Act 1988.

In 2011, the New Zealand government announced the establishment of a Constitutional Advisory Panel to engage people throughout the country in a conversation about the current constitutional arrangements and to share ideas about various issues.  The panel completed its report in November 2013 and recommended that the government actively support a continuing conversation about the constitution.  The panel’s website contains various fact sheets and other resources about aspects of the constitution.

The Law Library of Congress holds a number of items on New Zealand constitutional law, including:

Some important readings are also held in other Library of Congress collections, such as Geoffrey Palmer & Matthew Palmer, Bridled Power: New Zealand’s Constitution and Government (2004) and the earlier work by Sir Geoffrey Palmer, Unbridled Power: An Interpretation of New Zealand’s Constitution and Government (1987).

Bonus tips!

By using the advanced search function on the New Zealand Legislation website, you can find and read all of the “Imperial” “Principal Acts In Force” as well as see the “Imperial” “Repealed Acts” by checking the relevant options and clicking search.  The results of the latter search show that a number of the laws were repealed within the last twelve years by new statutes that established the New Zealand Supreme Court and abolished appeals to the Privy Council in London, and modernized the country’s property law provisions.  You may also be interested to note that some constitutional provisions in Imperial laws were amended recently by the Royal Succession Act 2013.

If you would like to see how these laws are referenced in court cases, you can search the databases of the New Zealand Legal Information Institute at www.nzlii.org.  Searching for “Magna Carta” in all case law databases, for example, returns about 70 results.  However, some of these results are actually citations for a 1991 book titled The Māori Magna Carta: New Zealand Law and the Treaty of Waitangi, which we also hold here at the Law Library of Congress.

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