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About the Centre

Learn about the purpose and history of the New Zealand Centre for Public Law and how we define public law.

Purpose and history

The New Zealand Centre for Public Law was established at the Law Faculty of Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington in 1996 by the University Council with funding assistance from the Victoria University of Wellington Foundation.

The functions of the Centre are to:

  • stimulate awareness and interest in public law issues
  • provide a forum for the discussion of these issues
  • foster and promote research of these issues.

The Centre is a liaison point for the Law Faculty’s external relationships on public law issues. We provide a forum for discussion among Law Faculty staff, overseas academics, New Zealand public servants, and others with a stake in public law.

Defining public law

The traditional definition of public law is broad. The Centre has, since 2001, maintained the following definition of public law:

  • law affecting the relationship of the state with individuals and groups of individuals and other states; or
  • more broadly, all law that is not private law governing relationships between individuals and groups of individuals.

Public law therefore includes law relating to:

  • the constitution
  • the rule of law and separation of powers
  • the electoral system
  • the organisation of government
  • the Treaty of Waitangi
  • human rights and privacy
  • immigration
  • medico-legal issues
  • the court system
  • the criminal justice system
  • taxation
  • the public health system
  • the public education system
  • the resource management system
  • the regulation of the economy and various aspects of commerce including occupational regulation
  • public international law.

Keep up with developments

Involvement with the Centre is a good way of keeping up with developments in public law. The Centre’s activities revolve around hosting conferences, seminars, and other events to debate and influence the public law issues of most current topical concern. The aim is to add to the public debates on these issues by making accessible the key facts and different perspectives on the issues; and by providing forums for engaging with and sparking dialogue with key decision-makers as well as learned commentators.

The NZ Centre for Public Law engages with politicians, public servants, the judiciary, the legal profession, academics, distinguished international visitors, and everyone else who wishes to help shape the current issues of our democracy.

Previous directors


Paul Walker, Senior Lecturer, BCL MA Oxf


Janet McLean, Senior Lecturer, LLB (Hons) VUW, LLM Michigan


Dr Alex Frame, Senior Lecturer, LLB Auckland, LLM LLD VUW


Professor Matthew Palmer, Dean of Law and Pro-Vice Chancellor (Government Relations), BA Canterbury, LLB (Hons) VUW, LLM JSD Yale


Acting Co-Directors

  • Claudia Geiringer, Senior Lecturer, BA (Hons) Otago, LLB VUW, LLM Columbia
  • Dean Knight, Lecturer, LLB (Hons) BCA VUW, LLM UBC


Professor Tony Smith, Dean of Law and Pro-Vice Chancellor LLM Cant, LLD Cantab; Barrister and Honorary Bencher (Middle Temple)


Acting Co-Directors

  • Claudia Geiringer, Senior Lecturer, BA (Hons) Otago, LLB VUW, LLM Columbia
  • Dean Knight, Lecturer, LLB (Hons) BCA VUW, LLM UBC