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New Zealand Law Guide (ARCHIVE): NZ Constitution

NZ Constitutional Law

Constitutional law is the law that governs New Zealand's public administration and the relationship between the individual and the state.

Like the United Kingdom, New Zealand has no written 'supreme' constitutional charter that establishes the fundamental laws, formally establishes and empowers the institutions of government, and guarantees the civil and political rights of citizens.  New Zealand operates under an informally organised framework of rules that establish and empower the three branches of government and provide for the rights and duties of citizens. This framework consists of imperial and egislation, the common law, and constitutional conventions and practices that are binding in a political rather than legal sense. These rules describe the exercise of public power among the instruments of the state, and embody all the elements of a legally established and regulated system of government.

Because New Zealand lacks an identifiable constitutional charter that delineates the scope of constitutional law, the boundaries of New Zealand constitutional law have never been precisely drawn. Constitutional rules may be changed by less formal means than under a written constitution, and the spheres of public and private law are merged rather than separated. 

A series of fundamentally important constitutional statutes apply as law in New Zealand - for example:

  • the Magna Carta of 1297 (25 Edw 1, c 29), the Petition of Rights 1627 (3 Cha 1, c 1), and the Bill of Rights 1688 (1 Will & Mar, Sess 2, c 2) continue to apply as law in New Zealand under the Imperial Laws Application Act 1988.
  • The Treaty of Waitangi 1840 is upheld as an historical or 'founding'' document.
  • The Constitution Act 1986 is New Zealand's principal constitutional statute and is sometimes likened to a written constitution, but the instrument is declaratory only of New Zealand's existing constitutional arrangements and is not protected from change by the ordinary legislative process.

Source: The Laws of New Zealand - Constitutional Law