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Having honours taken away (forfeiture)

Honours can be taken away from people who have done something to damage the honours system’s reputation. Taking an honour away is called ‘forfeiture’.

Can honours be removed?

Yes. It is possible to remove an honour on the advice of the Prime Minister and with the approval of the Sovereign.

What are the guidelines for review or forfeiture of honours in New Zealand?

The Prime Minister may consider advising The Queen to cancel the appointment of a person to an Order where an individual’s actions are such that, if they continue to hold that honour, the honours system would be brought into disrepute.

Examples include (but are not limited to) situations where the holder of an honour is sentenced to more than three months in prison, and:

  • the offence involved disloyalty to the state; or
  • the offence was committed by a civil servant and involved serious dereliction of duty; or
  • the offence involved other disgraceful conduct such that public opinion would consider it wrong for the offender to hold a Royal honour (bringing the honours system into disrepute). 

The Honours Unit provides advice and support to the Prime Minister in relation to forfeiture of honours. Where a complaint is made, the Honours Unit relies on the facts being clearly established, generally by an independent body – for example by a court decision or the findings of a tribunal. The Honours Unit does not have any fact-finding or investigatory powers – it does not decide whether someone is guilty or innocent of a particular act.

What is the process for forfeiture?

If the Prime Minister decides to initiate the forfeiture procedure, the Secretary and Registrar of the Order writes to the holder of the honour to let them know that forfeiture is being considered.

The holder of the honour has 30 days to respond with any comments that he or she considers should be taken into account.

If the Prime Minister decides to proceed with recommending forfeiture of the honour, he or she will write to The Queen advising her to cancel that person’s appointment to the Order.

Once The Queen has approved the proposal, the holder of the honour is notified and asked to return their insignia and warrant of appointment. They may no longer use the post-nominal letters associated with the honour after their name. If the honour has a title associated with it, the person is no longer entitled to use the title (e.g. “Dame” or “Sir”).

Can a person surrender their honour voluntarily?

A person can choose to resign from an Order voluntarily. In that case, they would be expected to return their insignia and their warrant of appointment, and their name would be removed from the Honours lists. The Queen would be informed, but it would not be necessary to advise her to cancel the appointment.

Where can I find the names of people who have had honours taken away?

The names of those who have had honours taken away can be found in the New Zealand Gazette. The Prime Minister does not comment on whether the recipient of an honour is being considered for forfeiture.

Last updated: 
Thursday, 22 November 2018

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