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Communtity Law Manual | Taonga Māori | Māori land | Overview and key terms

Māori land

Overview and key terms

The Māori Land Court (Te Kōti Whenua Māori) and the Māori Appellate Court (Te Kōti Pīra Māori) have jurisdiction to deal with kaupapa Māori matters in Aotearoa New Zealand, including the status, ownership, management and use of Māori land. They also have jurisdiction over Māori fisheries claims. This chapter is a helpful starting point for anyone dealing with kaupapa Māori legal issues.

How Māori land law is different from other land law

Although it’s subject to many of the same laws as other land in Aotearoa, Māori land is also different in some key ways. Under Te Ture Whenua Māori Act 1993 (the Māori Land Act), there are significant restrictions on transferring ownership of the land, whether on the death of an owner or through the selling or gifting of the land. The Act favours ownership of Māori land being retained among the owners’ whānau, hapū and descendants.

The Māori Land Court enforces those restrictions. Most dealings with Māori land are scrutinised by the court and require a court order to be legally effective – for example, a “vesting order” in the case of the sale of land.

Because most Māori land has multiple owners, Te Ture Whenua Māori Act also provides various management structures and other methods that the owners can use to make decisions about the land more effectively – for example, by forming themselves into an incorporation or by putting the land under the control of trustees.

Future law changes in this area

In April 2016, the National Government introduced a new bill to replace the current Te Ture Whenua Māori Act 1993. However, in December 2017, the new coalition government withdrew the bill from the parliamentary process, saying they would be putting forward some new reforms in this area.

In February 2019, the Government announced a new cross-government Whenua Māori programme that it said would stimulate opportunities for whānau, plus some smaller amendments to Te Ture Whenua Māori Act that would make it less complicated for Māori landowners when they deal with the Māori Land Court. At the time of publishing this year’s Community Law Manual, an amendment to Te Ture Whenua Māori Act was still going through Parliament.

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