Māori Land Court

The Māori Land Court (Māori: Te Kōti Whenua Māori) is the specialist court of record in New Zealand that hears matters relating to Māori land.

This article is part of a series on the
politics and government of
New Zealand
New Zealand portal

Māori Land Court history

The Māori Land Court was established in 1865 as the Native Land Court of New Zealand under the Native Lands Act.[1] The court was established to facilitate the purchase of Māori land by the Crown by converting collectively owned Māori customary land into Māori freehold land.[2] The Act created the Native Land Court to identify ownership interests in Māori land and to create individual titles (in place of customary communal title) that were recognisable in English law. Under the Native Lands Act 1865 only ten owners could be listed on land titles issued by the court.

As outlined by Williams, "government policy from 1858 onwards ... sought to introduce a rapid individualisation of ancestral Māori land in order to ensure the availability of most of that land for settlement by Pakeha settlers".[3] A continuation of the native land policies of 1862,[4] the intention outlined in the Preamble of the 1865 Act was “to encourage the extinction of such [native] proprietary customs”. One means of fulfilling this intention was to limit to ten the number of owners able to be issued a Certificate of Title. Francis Fenton was the chief judge from 1865 to 1882.

The court caused major ructions within some iwi as the court gave a democratic power to ordinary Māori that previously had been the domain of chiefs only. Judges often heard weeks of oral evidence to prove a claim to the land. Judges were totally independent from the government and their decisions were binding on the government. Judges often made their own rules as points of law arose but the general principle was equity. One of the most dramatic cases was the claim of Ngati Mutanga for their previous land in North Taranaki in 1870. The entire iwi abandoned the Chatham Islands (which they had invaded in 1835) to come to the court hearing.[5]

The court encouraged Māori to sell land to private buyers. But the Crown remained the biggest purchaser. Most Māori-owned land was sold during the economic recession of the 1890s. 2.7 million acres was sold to the government and 400,000 acres to private individuals. The Native Lands (Validation of Title) Act 1892 was passed by the Liberal government to stop any type of fraudulent deals and to give security of title to purchasers. The Act guaranteed Māori a reasonable price for their land. The government on-sold most of its Māori land, often for a profit. The rationale behind the legislation was to unlock under-used land owned by Māori (and also pastoralists with vast landholdings) and sell it to "thrifty, hardworking industrious and independent hardworking individuals."[6] The Liberals saw this as essential economic development. By 1939, almost 100 years after the Treaty of Waitangi was signed, Māori retained just 1 percent of the South Island and 9 percent of the North Island. Land losses continued as the 20th century progressed, again supported by legislation.[7]

During the 1950s and 1960s there was a major review of Māori land legislation. It was recognised that the previous legislative framework had had a detrimental effect on Māori society and the new legislation attempted to improve the situation by giving the a stronger focus on protecting Māori land from alienation.[8]

In 1954, the Native Land Court name was changed to the Māori Land Court. Originally the court was established to translate customary Māori land claims into legal land titles recognisable under English law. In 1993, the Te Ture Whenua Māori Act[9] expanded the court's jurisdiction to allow it to hear cases on all matters related to Māori land.

Māori Land Court today

The court has no centralised courthouse but has a head office in Wellington and sits in various cities and towns in New Zealand as needed. The court maintains registries in Whangarei, Hamilton, Rotorua, Gisborne, Whanganui, and Christchurch.[10] It also has information offices in Auckland and Turangi.

The Māori Land Court districts[11] are:

Appeals from the Māori Land Court are heard by the Māori Appellate Court, which consists of a panel of three (or more) judges of the Māori Land Court.[12] The Māori Land Court or the Māori Appellate Court may request an opinion on a matter of law from the High Court of New Zealand; such decisions are binding on the Māori Land Court. Appeals from the Māori Appellate Court, if permitted, lie with the Court of Appeal, and from there to the Supreme Court.

Māori Land Status

Māori land is a unique status of land in New Zealand. The definition of Māori land is provided by section 129 of Te Ture Whenua Māori Act 1993. The Act recognises Māori land as taonga tuku iho, a treasure to be handed down. The Māori Land Court promotes the retention and use of Māori land; and facilitates the occupation, development and use of that land.[13]

In pre-European times, the system of Māori land ownership was based on rights to occupy and use ancestral land. These rights were not held by individuals, but collectively by all members of a hapū or iwi.

Following the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi in 1840, two methods were used by the Crown to obtain Māori land: Crown acquisition and, after the passage of the New Zealand Settlements Act 1863, raupatu. Conflict relating to the sale of land to settlers led to the enactment of the Native Lands Act 1865.[14]

Māori Freehold Land came into being in one of three ways. Either it was set aside by the Crown from the Māori customary land purchased for the settlement of New Zealand[15]; the ownership of Māori customary land has been investigated by the Māori Land Court and a freehold order has been issued[16]; or the Māori Land Court has determined its status as Māori freehold land.

Māori customary land is held in accordance with tikanga Māori and has not been converted to Māori freehold land by the Māori Land Court.

Current Māori Land Court Judges

Māori Land Court judges are appointed by warrant issued by the Governor-General of New Zealand.[17]

  • Chief Judge Wilson Isaac
  • Deputy Chief Judge Caren Fox
  • (Former) Judge Glendyn Carter
  • (Acting) Judge Patrick Savage
  • Judge Carrie Wainwright
  • Judge Layne Harvey
  • Judge Stephanie Milroy
  • Judge Craig Coxhead
  • Judge Stephen Clark
  • Judge Sarah Reeves
  • Judge Michael Doogan
  • Judge Miharo Armstrong
  • Judge Terena Wara
  • Judge Damian Stone


  1. "The Native Lands Act 1865". Retrieved 28 December 2011.
  2. "Te Kōti Whenua – Māori Land Court". teara.govt.nz. Retrieved 10 September 2019.
  3. Williams, David Vernon (1999). 'Te Kooti Tango Whenua: The Native Land Court 1864-1909. Wellington, New Zealand: Huia. p. 82. ISBN 1-877241-03-2.
  4. "The Native Lands Act 1862". Retrieved 28 December 2011.
  5. Maori Claims and Reinvented Histories. M. Belgrave. 2005 p190-205.
  6. The Canoes of Kupe>R.McIntyre. Fraser Books. Masterton. 2012. pp 125–126.
  7. http://www.tepapa.govt.nz/WhatsOn/exhibitions/SliceofHeaven/Exhibition/Maori/Pages/Landrights.aspx
  8. "Part 2: Māori Land – What Is It and How Is It Administered?". Office of the Auditor-General New Zealand. Retrieved 10 September 2019.
  9. "Te Ture Whenua Maori Act 1993". Retrieved 21 December 2011.
  10. Maori Land Court - Te Kooti Whenua Māori. "Our services – how we can help you: A regional network of offices". About the Māori Land Court. Retrieved 28 September 2019.
  11. Maori Land Court - Te Kooti Whenua Māori. "Our services – how we can help you: Hearing dates & venues". About the Māori Land Court. Retrieved 28 September 2019.
  12. "Part 2 The Maori Appellate Court". Te Ture Whenua Maori Act 1993 Maori Land Act 1993. Retrieved 28 September 2019.
  13. "About the Māori Land Court". Māori Land Court. 16 August 2019.
  14. "Obtaining land - The Treaty in practice | NZHistory, New Zealand history online". nzhistory.govt.nz. Retrieved 10 September 2019.
  15. "What is Māori Land?". Land Information New Zealand (LINZ). Retrieved 10 September 2019.
  16. "Your Māori land | Māori Land Court". www.maorilandcourt.govt.nz. Retrieved 10 September 2019.
  17. "Our judges | Māori Land Court". www.maorilandcourt.govt.nz. Retrieved 10 September 2019.

Further reading

  • Tom Bennion (1997). The Maori Land Court and Land Boards, 1909 to 1952. (Wellington: Waitangi Tribunal).
  • Richard Boast (1999). Maori Land Law. (Wellington: Butterworths).
  • Dean Cowie. (1996). Land Alienations via the Native Land Court from 1866 to 1873. In Rangahaua Whanui District 11B: Hawke's Bay (pp. 61–136). (Wellington: Waitangi Tribunal). Retrieved from Tribunal website
  • Alan Ward (1999). An Unsettled History: Treaty Claims in New Zealand Today. (Wellington: Bridget Williams).
  • David Williams (1999). Te Kooti Tango Whenua: The Native Land Court 1864-1909. (Wellington: Huia).
  • Joe Williams (2001). Maori Land Court: A Separate Legal System? (Wellington: NZ Centre for Public Law).
This article is issued from Wikipedia. The text is licensed under Creative Commons - Attribution - Sharealike. Additional terms may apply for the media files.