The Treaty of Waitangi: Narrative, Tension, Constitutional Reform

[2019] New Zealand Law Review 185-214

32 Pages Posted: 13 Dec 2022

Date Written: 2019


The Treaty of Waitangi is New Zealand’s most important constitutional document. This article contends that part of its constitutional importance lies in its ability to sustain conflicting and contradictory narratives about the legitimacy of New Zealand’s legal and political system. These dueling narratives are ever-present in attempts to determine the Treaty’s contemporary legal effect and political salience, and are by and large accommodated by New Zealand’s unwritten constitutional structure. Calls for New Zealand to adopt a written constitution fail to account for the Treaty’s inherently ambiguous and unsettled constitutional status, ultimately preferring and entrenching one narrative over another. The article argues that such proposals for reform are misconceived unless they draw on lessons from our current unwritten constitutional practice.

Keywords: Constitutional law, public law, Treaty of Waitangi, unwritten constitutions, written constitutions

Suggested Citation

Willis, Edward, The Treaty of Waitangi: Narrative, Tension, Constitutional Reform ( 2019). [2019] New Zealand Law Review 185-214, Available at SSRN: or

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