This Day in the Law
November 25

New Zealand Becomes Independent of United Kingdom (1947)

On November 25, 1947, New Zealand adopted the Statute of Westminster and became a sovereign country. In particular, New Zealand declared its independence from Britain but still remained a British Commonwealth nation and retained ties with the Queen of England.

New Zealand is a country comprised of two main islands in the south-western Pacific Ocean. Historians believe the first natives, called Maori, arrived around 1,000 years ago to the islands. The first Europeans arrived in the 1600s and began to colonize the islands for raw materials and labor.

In 1840, the British Empire and local Maori signed the Treaty of Waitangi which created a British governor of New Zealand and gave the Maori the rights of subjects within the British Empire. New Zealand created its first colonial representative government in 1852 under the New Zealand Constitution Act of 1852. And New Zealand’s first parliament met in 1854. By the early 1900s, New Zealand became more politically independent but still relied upon Britain economically.

On November 25, 1947, New Zealand adopted the Statute of Westminster, which granted New Zealand its legal independence from Britain – although New Zealand remained a British Commonwealth nation. In effect, New Zealand could legislate and conduct foreign policy through its own legislature, but Britain was still involved in some of the legislative process. Later, in 1987, New Zealand gained complete legislative freedom from Britain after passing the Constitution Act of 1986.

Today, New Zealand is a legally independent country but it still refers to the Queen of England as its Head of State. So, in effect, the Queen of England is also the Queen of New Zealand. In turn, the Queen is represented by the New Zealand Governor-General, whom she appoints with the advice of the Prime Minister of New Zealand.