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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.



New Zealand in the Commonwealth

Thus we find that Durham's imperial functions are now firmly in the hands of Her Majesty's New Zealand ministers. There is only one important respect in which there can be said to be any legal or constitutional subordination to the United Kingdom. The tenacity of older attitudes and professional conservatism have led New Zealand to be one of the few Commonwealth countries to retain appeals to a Judicial Committee of the Privy Council. The same factors have produced recent judgments in New Zealand Courts, which may mean that decisions of the highest English appeal tribunal, the House of Lords, are binding on New Zealand Courts.

New Zealand became a Dominion in 1907, but it became clear that the concept of Dominion status was a developing one. Indeed, the development has gone so far that it is now generally conceded that the description “Dominion” is no longer an appropriate one to use in respect of the independent members of the Commonwealth, because it suggests some form of subordination to the United Kingdom, Canada ceased using the term some years ago, and it is now unusual to find it in official documents in New Zealand. The correct usage is suggested by the Royal Style and Title adopted by New Zealand in 1953: Elizabeth II, by the Grace of God of the United Kingdom, New Zealand and of Her other Realms and Territories, Queen, Head of the Commonwealth, Defender of the Faith. Elizabeth II is Queen of the United Kingdom; she has opened the Canadian Parliament as Queen of Canada and the New Zealand Parliament as Queen of New Zealand. Thus the United Kingdom, New Zealand, and other Commonwealth countries are the Realms of the Queen. These days we should think of the Realm of New Zealand rather than of the Dominion of New Zealand.

As former British territories in Asia and Africa have gained their independence, the British Commonwealth of Nations has become the multi-racial Commonwealth. Most of these new countries have chosen to stay within the Commonwealth, either by continuing their allegiance to the Crown or by becoming republics which acknowledge the Queen as Head of the Commonwealth. The large increase in membership of the Commonwealth has made the Commonwealth relationship more tenuous and has raised questions as to its future role. The fact remains that all its members regard the Commonwealth as having a role, even though it may be a changing one. Basically, the Commonwealth is an association of states which is not regional in character and in which the members continue to give a reasonable priority to the views and interests of other members. There would be general agreement with the statement made in 1947 by Fraser when India and Pakistan became Dominions in the Commonwealth.

[Dominion status] is independence with something added and not independence with something taken away. It carries with it membership of a free and powerful association from which every element of constraint has vanished, but one in which a way has been found for the practice of mutual confidence and cooperation in the full respect for the independence, sovereignty, and individuality of each member.

by Colin Campbell Aikman, LL.M.(N.Z.), PH.D.(LOND.), Professor of Jurisprudence and Constitutional Law, Victoria University of Wellington.

  • New Zealand and the Statute of Westminster, Beaglehole, J. C. (ed.) (1944)
  • New Zealand and the Statute of Westminster 1931, Currie, A. E. (1944)
  • The Constitutional Development of New Zealand in the First Decade, 1839–1849, Foden, N. A. (1938)
  • The Constitutional History and Law of New Zealand, Hight, J., and Bamford, H. D. (1914)
  • Crown Colony Government in New Zealand, McLintock, A. H. (1958)
  • The Provincial System in New Zealand, 1852–76, Morrell, W. P. (1964)
  • New Zealand – the Development of its Laws and Constitution, Robson, J. L. (ed.) (1954)
  • The Treaty of Waitangi and the Acquisition of British Sovereignty in New Zealand, 1840, Rutherford, J. (1949)
  • The New Zealand Constitution, Scott, K. J. (1962).