The government's constitutional review reported back at the end of last year with an overall recommendation that we keep discussing New Zealand's constitutional arrangements. On its face, an uninspiring recommendation, but it has many interesting findings.

Support for entrenchment

Probably of most legal interest is that while there is no broad support for a supreme constitution, there was considerable support for entrenching elements of the constitution. Entrenchment refers to the enactment of legislation with special protections, so that subsequent amendments require more than a standard parliamentary majority (commonly a 85% majority is required).

Entrenchment, however, is a major constitutional issue in itself. There is no mechanism in our legal arrangements for entrenchment especially as the right of parliament to amend legislation as it wishes is respected by the Courts. The Courts are also unwilling to closely review parliament's actions.

Other possible changes

Other significant recommendations from a legal perspective are to:

  • Continue the role and status of the Treaty of Waitangi in New Zealand legislation.
  • Consider expending the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990 to cover economic, social and cultural rights, property rights and environmental rights.
  • Give the judiciary powers to assess legislation for consistency with the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act.
  • Consider a longer term for parliament and a fixed election date.

The review process

The review began in early in 2011 with the appointment of a panel following agreement between National and the Maori parties after the 2008 election. The panel's mandate to investigate constitutional issues was broad, being to:

  • Stimulate public debate and awareness.
  • Provide the government with an understanding of New Zealanders views.
  • Provide advice on constitutional topics, including any points of broad consensus where further work was recommended.

The panel carried out a wide consultation including community meetings and had a Facebook page. Over 5,000 submissions were received. Overall the feedback showed strong interest across a range of people and organisations in the constitution.

The next step is for the government to respond to the panel's report.

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