Thursday, August 19, 2004

Constitutional issues II

The Holden Republic comments on my post on constitutional issues, rightly pointing out that my claim that "in a democracy, it is the people who are sovereign", doesn't match the legal reality. We're a constitutional monarchy, and legally at least the government's sovereignty derives from the monarch, not the people. Mea culpa, mea culpa; like most New Zealanders, I regard the government as a republic in all but name, and the fact that they claim to exercise power in the name of the queen rather than the name of the people as being about as relevant as whose face is on the money. Ultimately, our politicians answer to us, not to someone in England, and that shows us where the real power lies.

(At the same time, I should also point out that according to practically any post-Enlightenment political theory, even the monarch's sovereignty must be ultimately derived from the people, because we are its only possible source...)

As for my comments on the relative merits of enforceable human rights standards versus the identity of the head of state, it's simply a matter of relative importance and where we want constitutional freedom and where we want limits. Human rights are one area of our constitutional structure in which we don't want flexibility and where we absolutely do want hard enforceable limits on parliamentary action. Other areas aren't nearly as important, and could simply be left to evolve.