Accepted paper:

Can the Crown do wrong? The state as a moral actor in New Zealand


Jai Patel (University of Auckland)

Paper short abstract:

In New Zealand, the Crown is more than a proxy for the State; I suggest that it personifies the State as a moral actor and is central to its perceived legitimacy. I also show how changes in the moral character of the Crown reflect changes in New Zealand’s constitutional arrangements.

Paper long abstract:

The Crown in New Zealand has always occupied a moral position; it is perceived as apolitical, as the fount of justice, and is associated with honour and due process. The Crown is often understood to mean the State, but I suggest that it also bestows a moral character on the State and is central to its legitimacy. In the 1800s, the King could do no wrong. The Crown's presence in New Zealand was deemed a moral necessity and the concerns of settlers were allayed through Crown Law and Crown Land. Today however, the Crown's moral character is contestable; the Crown can not only do wrong, but has done wrong. This is clear, for example, in Banks v Queen, the Crown Proceedings Act, criticisms of the Royal family, in republican discourse and through the Crown's acknowledgement of its breach of Treaty principles. At the same time, the Crown maintains its moral authority by apologising for past transgressions against Maori and by prosecuting in high profile legal proceedings. The Crown upholds moral standards through oaths and the honours system, and has been indigenised and modernised to try to accommodate all New Zealanders. This paper asks: what does it mean when people say the Crown argues a case, or apologises for past grievances? What would be at stake for the legitimacy of the State if the Crown was replaced? I suggest that changes in the Crown's moral accountability arise from its changing meanings and its ambiguous place in New Zealand's constitutional arrangement.

panel Cit02
Moral politics and the modern state: the crown and constitutional reform in post-colonial settler societies