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Browse the 1966 Encyclopaedia of New Zealand
Graphic: An Encyclopaedia of New Zealand 1966.


This information was published in 1966 in An Encyclopaedia of New Zealand, edited by A. H. McLintock. It has not been corrected and will not be updated.

Up-to-date information can be found elsewhere in Te Ara.



Authority and Functions

By the general law both of England and of New Zealand a Governor-General is legally in a position different from that of a Viceroy, so far as his legal authority and functions are concerned, in that his authority derives exclusively from the express or implied terms of the Commission that is issued to him by the Sovereign. Whilst the Courts have held that the office of Viceroy brings with it automatically the powers and prerogatives of the Crown, no such amplitude of power attaches automatically to the office of Governor-General. That officer has only so much authority, or so little, as the terms of his Commission from the Crown allow, and if he does not act in accordance with its terms his actions will be without authority and may well bring him within the jurisdiction of the Courts both of England and of the Dominion. In fact, so far as New Zealand is concerned, there is no recorded instance of a Governor or Governor-General having exceeded the authority of his Commission. To determine the legal authority and the functions of the Governor-General it is therefore necessary to turn to the terms of his Commission. The Commission which is issued nowadays to a person appointed by the Crown as Governor-General of New Zealand is fairly standardised, with a general form of authority to exercise the powers and rights of the office in accordance with the provisions of certain Letters Patent of 1917, together with any Instructions and Orders from the Crown. The Letters Patent is a document in which the Crown permanently established the office of Governor-General for the Dominion of New Zealand, and specifically authorised the holder of that office for the time being to appoint the Executive Council for New Zealand; summon, prorogue or dissolve the Legislature; appoint, suspend or remove Judges, Commissioners and other Ministers and officers; act as Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces of the Dominion; make grants of land; hold the public seal of the Dominion; and carry out such other functions as were prescribed by Instructions from the Crown, or by “such Laws as are now or shall hereafter be in force in New Zealand”. Formal Instructions were issued in 1917. They are of a permanent nature also, applying generally to all holders of the office; they do not add any further functions, merely regulating the manner in which some of the existing functions should be exercised. No further formal or informal Instructions have been issued since that date.

The “Laws … in force in New Zealand” have, however, added considerably to the functions of the Governor-General. Many have merely empowered the Governor-General to do in particular cases what the Letters Patent have authorised him to do in general, e.g., appointments of officials, grants of land. Legislation has, however, conferred at least two additional functions on the Governor-General, and these functions are nowadays amongst the most important of that office: first, the power given by the New Zealand Constitution Act 1852 (U.K.) to grant consent to Bills passed by the Legislature; and, secondly, the power conferred by most principal statutes, nowadays, to issue delegated legislation, in the form of Proclamations, Regulations, Orders-in-Council, to implement the purpose and policy of the statute. In 1964 the Governor-General assented to 152 statutes of a public, private, and local nature, and issued some 221 forms of delegated legislation, all affecting various facets of life in New Zealand.

Three fields in which neither the Letters Patent nor the laws in force in New Zealand have ever authorised the Governor-General to exercise any legal functions are the fields of external affairs, religion, and social customs. Whilst the Governor-General does participate in all three fields, the functions he exercises have no compelling legal sanction and are really functions of a social nature only. Thus he receives and entertains diplomatic representatives, distinguished visitors to the Dominion, and New Zealanders; accepts Letters of Credence from newly appointed heads of diplomatic missions for forwarding to the Crown; attends himself as a guest at religious services and other more important functions in the various facets of community life; and, if requested, bestows his patronage upon worthy organisations.