New Zealand severs links with Privy Council

The Times Online law section (registration should be free of charge) reported on October 28th that New Zealand will no longer be using the Privy Council as its final court of appeal.

bq. The decision, which follows similar steps over the past 50 years by Australia, Canada and South Africa, ends 163 years of legal dependence on New Zealand’s former colonial masters. A supreme court of five judges will become the final court of appeal from July 1 next year.

The full name of the court is the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council (Rechtsausschuss des Kronrats). Its members are the judges of the House of Lords plus one or two Commonwealth judges. Only 15 countries will still be sending appeals to it, most of them Caribbean countries with death-penalty cases (curious that the House of Lords have to deal with death-penalty cases when the death penalty has been abolished in Britain, and with questions relating to a written constitution when, despite the Human Rights Act, Britain doesn’t have anything quite like that).

The article goes into some detail about death penalty cases in the Caribbean.

Those with spelling problems should note: a member of the Privy Council is a Privy Counsellor (not Councillor).

If this is the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council, what is the Privy Council? In the Middle Ages it was a group of people who advised the King. Now, it is more amorphous. People are made members of the Privy Council for life, and they are addressed as ‘Right Honourable’. But only if they are ministers in the government do they actually decide anything. There are about 500 members. They only ever meet in full when the monard dies or announces an intention to marry. The Privy Council passes some delegated legislation, called Orders in Council (Dietl says (Regierungs-)Verordnung).

There’s an interesting article in the Guardian archives by Roy Hattersley, who became a member. (He gives a list of some of the well-known members – a full list is here).

bq. Harold Wilson once assured Richard Nixon that, because he was addressing ministers who had taken the privy council oath, he could speak freely about nuclear strategy. No doubt the secrets of the Pentagon remained secure. But I doubt if it was the promise “not (to) know or understand of any manner of thing to be attempted, done, or spoken against Her Majesty’s person, honour, crown, or dignity royal” which prevented the president’s audience from running out of Downing Street to phone the Soviet embassy.

bq. Quoting those words from the privy council’s oath is certainly an offence and possibly treason. Members are required to “keep secret all matters committed and revealed unto you or that shall be treated secretly in council”. So I should not describe the Gilbertian meeting at which I promised to “defend all jurisdictions, pre-eminences and authorities granted to Her Majesty”.

1 thought on “New Zealand severs links with Privy Council

  1. Our McKenzie friend Peter Hanger QC has appeared before the PC in London on an Australian appeal. As I suggested to him, the PC is – usually but not always – the House of Law Lords-plus-Ladyship in a different guise.

    I assume our Kiwi friends have now fully disposed – through the PC in London – of the Maori land compensation claims against the Brit. Crown under the Waitingi Treaty. I was following the saga with great interest in 1996 during my post-FIT/ITF Melbourne Congress visit to NZ.

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