Story: Constitution

New Zealand's constitutional system

New Zealand's constitutional system

These diagrams show the components of New Zealand's constitutional system and how they relate to one another. The first diagram shows the official system, which comprises the sovereign at the head and Parliament at the centre. The executive (the branch of government headed by the cabinet, which executes laws and policies) is accountable to Parliament, while the courts interpret legislation passed by Parliament. The actions of the executive and the courts are done in the name of the sovereign. The public has a relationship with three of the central components – the executive in the form of public opinion, Parliament through elections and participation in parliamentary processes such as select committees, and the courts through court action.

The second diagram shows the components of New Zealand's constitutional system in practice. It recognises that the sovereign is a constitutional figurehead and that real power lies with the executive. It acknowledges Parliament as a single entity but also the political elements within Parliament – the caucus of the ruling party and the other elected parties. Pressure groups, the media and lawyers also have roles to play in the constitution system through their relationships with Parliament, political parties and the courts. The public's access to the higher components of the system is typically mediated through these three elements.

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Source: Geoffrey Palmer, New Zealand's constitution in crisis: reforming our political system. Dunedin: John McIndoe, 1992, pp. 6, 9

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How to cite this page:

Matthew Palmer, 'Constitution - What is a constitution?', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 10 December 2023)

Story by Matthew Palmer, published 20 Jun 2012