damen ward on native offenders and the british constitution


Damen Ward, ‘Territory, Jurisdiction, and Colonial Governance: “A Bill to Repeal the British Constitution”, 1856–60’, Journal of Legal History 33, 3 (2012).

Britain claimed full territorial sovereignty over New Zealand, even though substantive enforcement of its authority against Maori often faced significant challenges. Alarmed at the weakness of British governance in relation to Maori, Governor Thomas Gore Browne proposed a Native Offenders Bill. The Bill proposed giving the New Zealand Governor sweeping powers to ban ‘any communication’ or trade with any Maori within a specified district, or with a particular tribe. Such a ban would, it was claimed, ensure compliance with colonial law. However, the bill was twice rejected by the settler legislature (1856 and 1860), on both constitutional and practical grounds. The paper places the bill in its political and legal contexts, and examines some of the ways colonial administrators and politicians responded to the difference between the government’s claim to extensive legal authority and its more limited substantive power.

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