Constitutional Reflections on Fifty Years of the Ombudsmen in New Zealand

22 Pages Posted: 4 Mar 2014 Last revised: 27 Mar 2015

See all articles by Sir Geoffrey Palmer QC

Sir Geoffrey Palmer QC

Victoria University of Wellington - Faculty of Law

Date Written: March 3, 2014


This paper explores the Ombudsmen after 50 years in New Zealand within the context of New Zealand's rather odd Constitution. It is odd because there is no upper house, no entrenched written constitution, no judicial review of legislative action, and many of the arrangements flow from constitutional conventions not law. New Zealand has a strong tradition of parliamentary supremacy. The New Zealand Constitution is highly fluid and elastic. It is like a living, breathing organism that mutates. This may be thought of as a somewhat unstable foundation for the Ombudsmen but this has not proved to be the case. The institution of the Ombudsmen has become an established and settled part of the constitutional landscape in New Zealand. The paper discusses the original vision of the Ombudsman's Office and considers its performance against that original idea. It explains the institution's role and its relationship with both Parliament and the Executive. It covers the other functions that the Office has been given alongside its original Ombudsmen role, and contemplates the potential threat for the Office to be crowded out with a proliferation of complaint agencies. It also considers the potential for the Office itself to draw complaint resolution functions away from MPs, when such a function has been a traditional part of MP roles with regard to their constituents. The latter half of the paper turns to the Official Information Act and raises the question of whether this jurisdiction should have been added to the functions of the Office. It sets out an overview of the recommendations in that report, responds to and critiques the Government's response, and lays out an alternative potential option to modernise and streamline official information legislation while reducing the additional workload of the Ombudsman's Office and ensuring it can focus on its core constitutional and human functions.

Keywords: Ombudsmen, Ombudsman's Office, New Zealand Constitution, Official Information Act

JEL Classification: K10, K30

Suggested Citation

Palmer QC, Sir Geoffrey, Constitutional Reflections on Fifty Years of the Ombudsmen in New Zealand (March 3, 2014). (2013) 25(4) NZULR 780; Victoria University of Wellington Legal Research Paper Series Palmer Paper No. 5. Available at SSRN:

Sir Geoffrey Palmer QC (Contact Author)

Victoria University of Wellington - Faculty of Law ( email )

PO Box 600
Wellington, 6140
New Zealand

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