Progressing tikanga Māori in law

The Faculty of Law’s Associate Professor Carwyn Jones has been appointed Tumuaki Tāne of the Māori Law Society—Te Hunga Rōia Māori.

Co-President with Jamie-Lee Tuuta, Dr Jones (Ngāti Kahingunu and Te Aitanga-a-Māhaki) specialises in Māori legal issues, the Treaty of Waitangi, and constitutional law.

The initial two-year appointment comes as exciting progress is being made in many aspects of Māori law, he says.

“There are some very interesting things going on in the law at the moment, in terms of a recognition of tikanga Māori and what we will need our graduates to be well-equipped to engage with.

“I’ve been working with Māori legal academics across the country on a project aimed at indigenising the LLB degree and part of that considers how we make it more accessible and attractive to a more diverse cohort of students. If you can see yourself reflected in what you are studying, you are more likely to engage.

“As a society we want to support our members in not just pursuing that diversity among students but at all levels of the profession and amongst judicial appointments.”

The growing recognition of tikanga Māori in the law is encouraging, Associate Professor Carwyn Jones says.

“Consider the appeal over the Peter Ellis case. The Supreme Court had in the middle of last year granted Peter Ellis leave to appeal the [Christchurch Civic Creche child abuse] convictions relating back to the early 1990s. Then Peter Ellis died and the hearing happened at the end of last year and the question then had become, should the appeal continue, given he had died?

“The assumption would be, it would stop at that point. But in the Supreme Court a couple of judges started asking lawyers at the hearing if tikanga Māori has anything to say about that?

“The Supreme Court said ‘go and prepare submissions and we’ll have a hearing on that particular point’. That took place at the end of June, focusing on the role of tikanga and it is one of a couple of cases recently where Te Hunga Rōia has either been invited to intervene or applied to intervene and give a particular perspective.

“The Supreme Court has advised the appeal can continue. They haven’t given their reasons yet, so we don’t know exactly how they are treating tikanga, but it seems the role of tikanga is something lawyers are going to have to turn their minds to across a whole range of cases.

“Peter Ellis wasn’t Māori. But it is an argument about New Zealand law developing based on tikanga Māori.”

Associate Professor Jones’ research is primarily focused on Te Tiriti o Waitangi and Māori law, which followed his interest in the work of the Waitangi Tribunal in his later years at high school during the early 1990s.

“It was that combination of law and history and politics, and engaging with the Māori world. They were issues that probably resonated because they were talked about at home.

“It was hard to have a conversation with my grandmother without her talking about Māori land issues in one shape or another.

Associate Professor Jones says he has been inspired by the mana and wisdom of Māori law experts Sir Edward Durie and Moana Jackson.

“I was inspired when I saw the way Eddie Durie, former chief judge of the Māori Land Court and leading Treaty expert, and lawyer Moana Jackson were writing and engaging with those issues. I heard Moana speak and was really inspired.”

Associate Professor Jones completed a BA in history and LLB at the University and, after a couple of years working for the Waitangi Tribunal, completed a Master’s degree at York University in Toronto in the interdisciplinary studies programme, and later a PhD at the University of Victoria in British Columbia, well known for specialising in indigenous law.

In the classroom, he encourages students to think about what really engages them.

“I hope that with working on the issues that interest me I can at least convey why I am interested and that might encourage them too.

“I also encourage students to think about the groundedness of law, that it does have a real impact on people’s lives, and you should always try to remember that.

“It can be easy reading a case in class and dissecting it and looking for the legal principles, but you can forget this was a decision that really affected someone’s life.”

As Tumuaki Tāne, Associate Professor Jones will work closely with the New Zealand Law Society and the Law Commission, organisations with which Te Hunga Rōia has recently signed memoranda of understanding.

“Something we have put a lot of effort into in recent years is engaging more with the law reform process. So we have specialist committees for different areas of law—criminal law, Māori land law/Treaty of Waitangi issues, family law.

“For example, one of the things we try to co-ordinate is that when there’s legislation coming before Parliament, with an opportunity to submit to select committees , that we do that, particularly on issues that affect Māori.”