The basis for all law

A constitution forms the basis for all law within a country and defines the principles on which the government, including the justice system, must operate. It sets up the most important institutions of government, states their principal powers and makes broad rules about how these powers can be used.

New Zealand’s constitution

In some countries the constitution is written down in one place; in New Zealand, it’s not. New Zealand's constitution is drawn from a number of important statutes (laws), judicial decisions, and customary rules (constitutional conventions).

Key parts of New Zealand’s constitution

Key parts of New Zealand's constitution can be found in a number of documents. Together with New Zealand's constitutional conventions (generally legally accepted ways of doing things), the following documents form our constitution:

Other aspects of the constitution are also found in legislation in the United Kingdom and other New Zealand legislation, judgments of the courts and broad constitutional principles and conventions.

Rule of law

The rule of law also forms a significant part of the New Zealand constitution. The principles of the rule of law are not easily defined but encompass ideas such as:

  • the powers exercised by parliamentarians and officials are based on legal authority;
  • there are minimum standards of justice to which the law must conform, eg laws affecting individual liberty should be reasonably certain and clear;
  • the law should have safeguards against the abuse of wide discretionary powers;
  • unfair discrimination should not be allowed by the law;
  • a person should not be deprived of his or her liberty, status or other substantial interest without the opportunity of a fair hearing before an impartial court or tribunal.

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