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New Zealand Legal Research


The constitutional monarchy of New Zealand gained full independence from the United Kingdom in 1947. It operates as a unitary state, and not as a federal system like Australia or Canada. Its legislature is unicameral, that is, there exists in its Parliament only a House of Representatives, with no Upper House. Like its parent state, New Zealand has no written constitution, although a constitution exists in a series of statutes, letters of patent, treaties, and tradition. Due to its once being part of the United Kingdom, New Zealand still operates using the common law tradition and its legal materials are housed in Langdell. New Zealand is part of the Commonwealth of Nations.

Captain Cook landed in New Zealand in 1769 and declared it a British possession. This political reality came into legal reality on 6 February 1840 with the Treaty of Waitangi. The British Parliament passed the 1846 Constitution Act which was soon superseded by the New Zealand Constitution Act of 1852, which provides the anchor to New Zealand's modern constitution. In 1907 New Zealand became a dominion, although its legal status as a colony of the United Kingdom did not change. The 1931 Statute of Westminster allowed New Zealand to become fully independent from the U.K. and it was formally adopted in 1947 by the New Zealand's Parliament enacting the Statute of Westminster Adoption Act. One final act in 1973, the New Zealand Constitution Amendment Act formalized the independence of New Zealand.


This guide relied heavily on many of the general legal research books and websites herein mentioned.
Prepared by Martin Hollick, March 2007.  Updated by George Taoultsides, June 2011.