Lost Cases

The Lost Cases project aimed to find and collate early New Zealand law cases.

Recovering New Zealand's lost cases

New Zealand lawyers have discovered the importance of legal history, but many of the cases that have shaped New Zealand law, lawyers and even history remain hidden or lost in the archives, judges' personal papers or old newspapers.

Not only are they unavailable except to specialist historians, records of those cases are in danger of literally turning to dust in archive boxes.

Materials and cases can be found on the New Zealand's Lost Cases database.

Project aims

Finding and collating early cases

The aim of this project was to begin the systematic search for, and collation of, early New Zealand cases. These cases exist, not in published form, but in manuscript collections, archives, judges' notebooks, and libraries. Many of these cases have been simply forgotten.

While New Zealand had comparatively good early law reporting, only a selection of cases were formally reported. Consequently, many important decisions lie awaiting to be recovered.

Making early material available

A further important aspiration was to make these early New Zealand legal materials available to an international scholarly and legal audience.

New Zealand is an important common law jurisdiction and its early legal history is of great interest to comparative lawyers and legal historians in other jurisdictions, in much the same way as English, Canadian, United States’, and Australian legal history is of interest to New Zealand scholars.

The project aimed to make these publically available, free of charge, by way of the internet.

Courts covered by the project

The project was primarily concerned with Supreme Court and Court of Appeal decisions 1841-1883. In addition the project looked at Native Land Court decisions 1863-1883. The aim is not only to recover the cases themselves, but also surrounding materials.

Project team

Funding and oversight

The project was funded by the New Zealand Law Foundation. The project was also overseen by a reference group, composed of eminent persons from New Zealand and overseas.