Rethinking New Zealand’s Constitution – Bruce Jesson Foundation


A senior legal expert is calling for a fundamental rethink of New Zealand’s constitution in the light of the “illegitimacy” of the British Crown’s claim to sovereignty over this country.

Associate Professor Claire Charters chaired the working group that produced the 2019 report He Puapua on possible strategies to implement Te Tiriti o Waitangi and the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People.

She will give this year’s Bruce Jesson Memorial Lecture on Tuesday 18 October on the topic: “Legal Myth-takes and the Crown’s claim to sovereignty over Aotearoa/New Zealand: What are the implications for New Zealand’s constitution today?”

She will critically examine various legal narratives that attempt to explain, or refute, the Crown’s claim to sovereignty over Aotearoa/New Zealand under tikanga Māori, British and international law.

Exposing the conflicts between these narratives and the legal myths on which many of them rely, she will then consider their implications for New Zealand’s constitution today.

She will argue that redressing the basic illegality and illegitimacy of the Crown’s historical claim to sovereignty might require a fundamental rethinking of New Zealand’s constitution, and will offer some ideas inspired by international law and comparative constitutions.

Claire Charters is director of the Aotearoa New Zealand Centre for Indigenous Peoples and the Law in the law school at the University of Auckland and is a Royal Society of New Zealand Discovery Fellow (2019-24) investigating constitutional transformation to realise Māori aspirations under Te Tiriti o Waitangi, drawing on lessons from around the globe including North and South America, the Pacific, Asia, Africa and northern Europe.

She has links to Ngāti Whakaue, Tūwharetoa, Ngā Puhi and Tainui and grew up in Rotorua, attending Rotorua Girls’ High School.

TDB Recommends

She has degrees from Otago, New York and Cambridge Universities and wrote her doctoral thesis at Cambridge on the legitimacy of indigenous peoples’ norms under international law.

From 2010 to 2013 she worked for the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights on the Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. She was an adviser to the president of the United Nations General Assembly in 2016-17 and served as a trustee on the United Nations Voluntary Fund for Indigenous Peoples from 2014 to 2020.

The Bruce Jesson Memorial Lecture has been delivered annually since the year 2000 in memory of the journalist and politician Bruce Jesson (1944-1999), whose books published over several decades analysed the capture of wealth and power in New Zealand by a small elite.

Claire Charters will deliver her lecture in the Old Government House lecture theatre on the main Princes St campus of the University of Auckland at 6pm on Tuesday 18 October. The event is free and open to the public.


Further details:

About Bruce Jesson

Bruce Jesson (1944-1999) grew up in Christchurch and earned a law degree at Canterbury University, but was never admitted to the Bar because he refused to swear allegiance to the British queen.

He never trained as a journalist but wrote and edited some of the most original, important and challenging journalism in New Zealand in The Republican, which he published on a hand-to-mouth basis from 1974 to 1995, as a columnist for Metro magazine, and in a series of books including The Fletcher Challenge: Wealth and Power in New Zealand (1980), Behind the Mirror Glass: The Growth of Wealth and Power in New Zealand in the Eighties (1987) and Only Their Purpose is Mad: The Money Men Take Over New Zealand (1999). Some of his collected writings were published posthumously in To Build a Nation, edited by Professor Andrew Sharp, in 2005.

He was elected to the Auckland Regional Council as an Alliance candidate in 1991 and chaired the Auckland Regional Services Trust from 1992 to 1995, keeping key assets such as the Auckland port in public ownership in the face of massive pressure by the National Government of the time to privatise them.

About the Bruce Jesson Foundation

The Bruce Jesson Foundation was incorporated in 2001 “to promote activities designed to generate critical, informed, analytical and creative contributions to political debate in New Zealand and about New Zealand”. Its first chair was former Prime Minister David Lange.

It holds an annual lecture at Auckland University on current issues in the media and society, and since 2004 it has given an annual award to advance-fund “a work of critical, informed, analytical and creative journalism or writing which will contribute to public debate in New Zealand on an important issue or issues”.

Previous awards have gone to: Nicky Hager (2004); Tina McIvor (2004); Jon Stephenson (2005); Amie Richardson (2006); Peter Malcouronne (2007); Keith Mexsom (2008); Dr Chris Harris (2010); Max Rashbrooke (2011 and 2014); Rebecca Macfie (2012); Alister Barry (2013); Errol Wright and Abi King-Jones (2015); Catriona MacLennan (2015); Aaron Smale (2018); and Denise Piper and Jason Dorday (2021).

Since 2009 the Foundation has also offered an annual award of up to $1500 for published work by a student journalist.

The Bruce Jesson Foundation acknowledges the support from a gift by the Grace Memorial Trust in memory of Diana Unwin.

Further details:



Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.