19 April 2011

Constitutional change, the Crown, and the voices of citizens?

John Key has said that New Zealand will support moves to change the line of succession for the monarchy, removing the present discrimination against women and Catholics:

Of course, I think the old rules are daft and should be changed (but I think the whole idea of hereditary succession based on a family in a foreign land is stupid anyways).

What's most striking, though, is John Key's unilateral commitment of New Zealand to such constitutional change without any involvement of the public.  But this government has been all over the place on the question of whether New Zealanders should have a say on who our Head of State should be.

On the one hand, the government has said, in the context of the constitutional review, there needs to be widespread public endorsement of any constitutional changes.  Bill English said specifically:
 “Of course, we will keep in mind that enduring constitutional changes generally require a broad base of support. Significant change will not be undertaken lightly and will require either broad cross-party agreement or the majority support of voters at a referendum."
On the other hand, the government shuts the people out of discussions about the Head of State.  First, government MPs blocked Keith Locke's Member's Bill on the Head of State at its first reading – preventing the public from having their say on whether or not they wanted to retain or ditch the monarchy. Secondly, the government failed to expressly include the republic issue in the terms of reference for the constitutional review, even though they noted there was some support for this.  It seems they didn't want "popular" changes overshadowing their – arguably, less popular – other ideas for constitutional reform.  And now, this week, John Key unilaterally announces New Zealand's support for changes to the line of succession – changes that are being negotiated behind closed doors amongst the British Monarchy's various realms.

This is all disappointing – and inconsistent.

1 comment:

Graeme Edgeler said...

The New Zealand Bill of Rights Act and Human Rights Act were passed without public involvement? I never knew.

Couldn't changes to succession just be a natural consequence of decisions already taken re: discrimination, etc.?

Course Outline

Lord Justice Lawton in Maxwell v Department of Trade and Industry [1974] 2 All ER 122 said:

"From time to time ... lawyers and judges have tried to define what constitutes fairness. Like defining an elephant, it is not easy to do, although fairness in practice has the elephantine quality of being easy to recognise. As a result of these efforts a word in common usage has acquired the trappings of legalism: 'acting fairly' has become 'acting in accordance with the rules of natural justice', and on occasion has been dressed up with Latin tags. This phrase in my opinion serves no useful purpose and in recent years it has encouraged lawyers to try to put those who hold inquiries into legal straitjackets.... For the purposes of my judgment I intend to ask myself this simple question: did the [decision-maker] act fairly towards the plaintiff?"

This course examines the elephantine concept of fairness in the law, along with other contemporary legal issues.

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