Monday, December 15, 2008

Monarchy bows to democracy in Luxembourg

An interesting constitutional development in Luxembourg this week: earlier in the month, Luxembourg's monarch, citing "reasons of conscience", refused to sign a bill legalising euthanasia for the terminally ill. Then he turned around and called on Parliament to change the constitution to strip him of that power. On Thursday, the Parliament obliged, overwhelmingly passing the amendment through its first reading. It will get its second reading and become law sometime this week, clearing the way for the euthanasia bill to become law by Friday. And so Luxembourg's monarchy bows to democracy.

It's time our monarchy did the same. While the power to refuse assent is a monarchical fiction which has not been used for three hundred years, thanks to the phrasing of s16 of the Constitution Act, it keeps cropping up. It's long past time we put an end to it. The amendment required would be simple - simply make it clear that the Governor-General must sign a bill, or impose a one-week time limit as a fallback. Alternatively, we could follow the pattern of European democracies, and have the Speaker sign bills into law. Either way, the fiction would end, and it would be finally clear where law-making power lies in New Zealand: with the elected Parliament, rather than the unelected monarch.