Hone Harawira on Lawyers And Conveyancers Bill
Lawyers And Conveyancers Bill
Speech of Thursday 2 March 2006
Hone Harawira, Justice Spokesperson for the Māori Party
Some time ago, a feisty young Māori MP, objected to the vesting of petroleum in Crown ownership, arguing that whether Māori knew about oil in 1840 was irrelevant.
He argued that indigenous rights should not be locked into the time warp of colonisation.
And he argued that the challenge for lawyers was not the exact interpretation of the law but "a vision of how it should be developed".
That politician with vision? Sir Apirana Ngata. The time? 1937.
Seventy years later, Sir Apirana’s words remind us that the true art of law is not just about working to the rules, but about delivering justice.
The Māori Party acknowledges the flourishing Maori legal profession for developing the skills of drafting, practicing, and prosecuting law in the way Ngata first spoke of.
We recognise the help they have given Maori politicians in promoting and advancing legislation through the House.
And we celebrate the fact that there are more than 1200 Maori students enrolled in legal studies. That celebration of course, is somewhat tempered by the fact that Maori make up less than 5% of lawyers, and 7% of the judges.
THE PUBLIC INTEREST
We have also heard a lot during this debate about how conveyancers and lawyers are supposed to act in the public interest.
And I have to ask myself – is that my public? Is that the people down Charlie's Place in Panguru, or my whanaunga out in Whangaruru? Are my brother and his whanau out West Auckland part of this decision-making process? Or is there some other public that we refer to here?
I have a strange feeling that my people are not the public that is often referred to when people talk about the public interest, and that worries me.
And then, when I look back into our history, I see that in 1841, a Mr William Spain was appointed Commissioner to examine land claims in Wellington and Taranaki.
And so, our tupuna were presented with the remarkable, racist, and truly ludicrous spectacle of an English lawyer deciding who of Te Atiawa had land rights, and what constituted Te Atiawa custom, and establishing a benchmark, which bedevils many of the issues we face in the legislation before the House today. The whole matter would have been truly laughable, were it not so tragic.
Such is the basis of legal history in Aotearoa, which assumes that the statute law that came on a sailing ship, has more authority than that which came by waka ... and such is the basis of many of the legal problems we face today.
TE TIRITI O WAITANGI
The real question of course, is what obligation we have to respect Te Tiriti o Waitangi, because for all the hullabaloo that politicians raise about its historical importance, its constitutional authority and its spiritual significance, it doesn’t even rate a mention in the Lawyers and Conveyancers Bill.
Even though it was Te Tiriti o Waitangi which gave the Crown the right to set up a Government to establish laws in the first place, in return for which the Crown were to guarantee and actively protect Maori authority over their lands, their fisheries, their forests, and other treasures, and extend to them the status and rights of British citizens.
I was very interested therefore, when, on the 15th February, the Associate Minister for Treaty Negotiations, the Hon Mita Ririnui, assured this House of the Government’s commitment to the Treaty being included in legislation.
I was pleasantly surprised to hear this commitment – and I suggest that Minister Burton might want to have a conversation with his colleague to ensure that they are both singing off the same songsheet.
I make this point, because it is due to the special constitutional status of Te Tiriti o Waitangi that the Māori Party will be introducing a paper to have an oath of allegiance to Te Tiriti o Waitangi included alongside the oath of allegiance to the Queen, in the Oaths Modernisation Bill.
Mr Speaker, the obligation to uphold the rule of law should require every lawyer to take formal education in Te Tiriti o Waitangi, its significance as the founding document of Aotearoa, its interpretation, and its application to current systems, policies and events.
That education should also include a look at the effects of colonisation, the value of Maori perspectives, partnership, land ownership, sovereignty and social justice.
It is heartening to see in this Bill that the Council of Legal Education has chosen to recognise the aims, aspirations, and involvement of Maori as employees. We would hope that that can happen right across the legal fraternity, and we commend the Council for their work in this regard.
The Māori Party is pleased to see this Bill reach the light of day, because it will mean the opening up of the closed-shop legal profession, and give our people protection from the legal sharks.
We all shudder at the stories of lawyers acting as trustees, and choosing court action over resolution simply to fatten their wallets, but in truth, it seems that legal sharks have always been part of the profession. Indeed, Sir Richard Malins, an English jurist, made the stark observation in 1878 that:
“One cannot help regretting that where money is concerned, it is so much the rule to overlook moral obligations.”
JUSTICE FOR ALL
Twenty years ago, Moana Jackson presented a report entitled 'The Maori and the Criminal Justice System. One of his proposals was for a parallel criminal justice system for Maori.
As we come into a time when politics is being dumbed down by the constant cry of ‘one law for all’ – it may be time to look again at how the law embodies and protects cultural values.
Mr Jackson reminds us that the law is never culturally neutral, and that legal ideals are always the product of a particular culture. He also proposes the view that 'one law for all' should not mean 'one process for all' but rather 'one justice for all'.
The Māori Party will demand that that justice includes the active involvement of whānau in all stages of the legal process.
For whose interests?
Te whakapakari te mana me ngā ohaki a te iwi katoa- the mana and well-being of the people.