December 2013 Māori Law Review

Editorial – Remarks at the celebration of the Māori Law Review’s 20 year anniversary

Māmari Stephens, senior lecturer in law at Victoria University of Wellington and consultant editor to the Māori Law Review, spoke at the function held on 28 November 2013 to celebrate 20 years of publication for the Māori Law Review.

The context in which the Māori Law Review operates

Introduction - ngā kupu whakataki

Tēnā koutou ki a koutou kua whakarauika nei mō tēnei hui whakahirahira, ka nui taku mihi ki a koutou katoa, tēnā koutou.

Kia ora everybody and thank you for the opportunity to speak to you tonight.

The brief that I was given was to speak about the context in which the Māori Law Review operates. Indeed, I would like to touch upon a few points whereby Māori ways of doing law and seeing the law have become increasingly normalised over the past few years. I want to touch upon four main points, if you like.

Māori language as a language of law

The first is that the growth in recent years in the normalisation of the use of the Māori language as a language of law.

Of course in our bicultural and bilingual legal history Māori has been a language of law. For example in parts of the 19th century, depending upon which governor was holding the reigns at the time.

But there has also been a particular flowering of the use of Māori as a legal language within Parliament especially since 2005.

The Legal Māori Project that has been running in the Law Faculty at Victoria University was able to capture some of that growth within its outputs, and in particular within the dictionary the Project produced this year He Papakupu Reo Ture - A Dictionary of Māori Legal Terms. There are at least four people I can see in this room that have worked on the project, and the project itself wound up this year.  But the normalisation of Māori as a language of law once more is not just reflected in the outputs of the Project specifically, but also in the fact that it has been published by a legal publisher, LexisNexis.

Recent scholarship on Māori ways of doing law

Another point where a kind of normalisation of Māori ways of doing law can also be seen in recent scholarship (much of which has been produced in association with Victoria University!) .

One particularly important example is the 2013 publication of the extraordinarily rich resource Te Mātāpunenga: A Compendium of References to the Concepts and Institutions of Māori Customary Law (VUWP).  Other examples can be seen in Mark Hickford’s Lords of the Land, and Professor Richard Boast’s The Native Land Court- a historical study, cases and commentary 1862-1887.

Professor Boast’s work, the first of a series of such volumes, is filling in the gaps whereby cases and commentary of the Māori Land Court have been collated and put firmly in the public domain; of course these cases were held in the public domain, but the records of these cases often were not very accessible.

Hickford’s work is notable too for its portrayal of the agency that Māori have insisted on exercising in the development of native title and political constitutionalism in New Zealand. Māori are not, and never have been a ‘fatal impact’ people, and this is reflected in these kinds of recent scholarship.

Constitutional debate

Another point I’d like to mention about the recent context in which we find the Māori Law Review operating is the last couple of years of constitutional debate, as New Zealanders, including Māori, have debated how we might seek to reform our constitution and what implications that might have for us as a nation.

Māori have never shied away from these issues, and have been having this kind of debate across the length of our bicultural legal history, but Māori voices have been prominent in this most recent set of debates.

Customary law and different ways of 'doing law'

Finally, and perhaps quite obviously, recent events that colour the context within which the Review operates have included important cases such as Takamore, which went to the Supreme Court, concerning a clash of rights over burial, and the High Court case of Mason. The Mason case, as you will probably know, asked critically important questions about the extent to which Māori customary criminal law can be seen as still operating within this country.

I was contacted last week by Mike Hosking of Newstalk ZB about the recent criminal case that involved a young man seeking, as was reported, a lighter sentence by virtue of his ethnicity (or more accurately perhaps, his connection as a Māori to a history of colonial dispossession). “Doesn’t that case set a precedent?” asked Mike. Well, not really.

The merits of that most recent case aside, anyone who has any connection with or understanding of our bilingual and bicultural legal history would be familiar with the many areas in which Māori have sought to appeal to difference and a different way of ‘doing law.’

The Māori Law Review - reflecting how Māori speak, think and do law in this country

And throughout these developments the Māori Law Review has been present.  It has reflected this normalisation of Māori ways of doing things. Of course, this has included the kind of gap filling we have heard about, with the reporting of Māori Land Court decisions. But other decisions also, from the higher courts, have been reported routinely.

The Review has provided reviews of the recent scholarship.

The Review has supported the Māori language as a language of law in its support of the outputs of the Legal Māori Project.

And in the constitutional debates the Review has also been present; establishing the indigenous speaker series and the Māori Law Review symposium on the constitution earlier this year.

The Māori Law Review has gone from strength to strength, and it is exciting to think how it will develop in the future, and continue to reflect how Māori speak, think and do law in this country.

Kia ora koutou.


Picture of Tom Bennion, Annabel, Paul Beverley

Founding editor Tom Bennion (with Annabel) and Buddle Findlay partner Paul Beverley