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PhD Milestone at AUT Law School – Māori land trust research

17 December 2018

Research examining the management of Māori land trusts is the focus of the first PhD awarded by the Auckland University of Technology (AUT) Law School. Māori Land Court Judge, Layne Harvey, (Ngāti Awa, Rongowhakaata, Te Aitanga a Māhaki, Te Whānau a Apanui and Ngāti Kahungunu ki Te Wairoa) graduated during the university’s December 2019 ceremonies, having completed a thesis titled Would the Proposed Reforms Affecting Ahu Whenua Trusts Have Impeded Hapū in the Development of Their Lands? A Ngāti Awa Perspective.

The research examines, from the perspective of three hapū of the Ngāti Awa iwi from the Bay of Plenty, the management of Māori land trusts – how they have developed and flourished under the current law, and what changes are necessary to that law so that they can operate with more autonomy and independence to assist in the development of their local communities.

Some of the key findings include:

· Fragmentation of land interests and the lack of engagement of owners are not insurmountable barriers to land development;

· Most large trusts operate effectively under the current law with minimal Court involvement;

· Many transactional functions should be devolved from judicial to administrative oversight;

· Greater use of online and audio-visual tools, including a central portal of Māori land data, will minimise transactional costs and hearing delays;

· Land title records should be digitised and accessible online, and land owners provided with individual log in options to access their land information including annual accounts;

· Dispute resolution options should be expanded to enable the judiciary and external providers to be utilised more effectively in arbitration, mediation and marae-based processes.

“Given the dearth of texts on the functioning of Māori land trusts, and inaccessibility of relevant case law through no formal reporting series, a thesis that examined such trusts, their advantages and risks, seemed apposite. Then when the reform process began in earnest in 2013, the focus on unlocking latent potential inevitably led to an examination on what works and what can be improved,” says Judge Layne Harvey.

Deputy Head of School, Professor Allan Beever, who supervised Judge Harvey, says the Law School is thrilled to have its first PhD graduate.

“We are particularly pleased that Layne’s thesis is likely to be influential into the future in shaping policy in its subject area. It has been a real pleasure supervising Layne,” says Professor Beever.

According to AUT Vice-Chancellor Derek McCormack, the milestone is significant.

“This year AUT’s postgraduate enrolment across the university reached 19% of our student body and includes almost 1,000 Doctoral and PhD students.

“We are privileged that Judge Harvey is the first of what we hope will be many PhD researchers contributing to New Zealand’s legal sector,” he said.

It is intended that some of the research will be published in articles and books currently in planning stages on Māori law generally and Māori land law, in particular, as well as through seminars and lectures and the creation of online and audio visual resources.


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