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King’s Counsel files complaint over tikanga Māori requirement for law students

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A senior King’s Counsel has filed a complaint to the Government’s Regulations Review Committee over incoming compulsory tikanga Māori studies for law students.

Gary Judd KC told the Herald he did so because up until now the curriculum for lawyers has been made up of what he described as “proper law subjects”, such as criminal law and the law of torts.

“Tikanga is a system of beliefs, a system which indicates the way the Māori people who subscribe to tikanga consider is the right way of doing things. So it is quite different,” Judd said.

Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters also weighed into the debate by supporting Judd’s complaint in a statement and social media post.

“Tikanga is not law. It is cultural indoctrination,” Peters said.

“Law students should not be force-fed this kind of woke indoctrination from some culture warrior’s slanted version of what tikanga means.”

But emeritus professor of law at University of Auckland Jane Kelsey told the Herald she disagrees with Judd’s complaint, saying New Zealand is lucky to have a curriculum which reflects the country’s history.

“Mr Judd is about the same vintage as me. The Treaty warranted one class in my entire law degree, and that was the English version. Thankfully, we now have a more informed curriculum that reflects our history, colonial and Māori, which has fed through into a more informed jurisprudence,” Kelsey said.

Gary Judd
Gary Judd

Kelsey said she found students embraced learning about the Māori ethical and spiritual relationships encompassed in tikanga as providing an enriching perspective.

“I found my students embraced the richness of that approach. It is now reflected in our courts as well, recognising that tikanga is not just another system of law but one that Te Tiriti said would continue to operate alongside the common law.”

Te Herenga Waka – Victoria University of Wellington describes tikanga as Māori customary practices or behaviours.

“The concept is derived from the Māori word ‘tika’ which means ‘right’ or ‘correct’ so, in Māori terms, to act in accordance with tikanga is to behave in a way that is culturally proper or appropriate,” the university states.

Yet in Judd’s complaint, he argued the new requirement was “symptomatic of a dangerous trend” where those with the power to do so seek to impose the beliefs and values of one section of society upon the community as a whole.

“They do so in this instance by pretending that tikanga is law and therefore it is fitting to compel law students to learn about it,” he wrote.

Judd felt it was inappropriate for the New Zealand Council of Legal Education to compel all law students to engage in something which he said was not law at all.

When asked how the tikanga component was different to other required papers in other degree courses, for example cultural papers in arts degrees, he said it was a “very interesting point”.

The New Zealand Council of Legal Education said it is satisfied the correct procedures with the tikanga Māori requirements have been followed, including appropriate consultation.

“The council is disappointed that these issues were not raised with us before being published in the media,” the council said.

“Teaching tikanga is an essential part of legal education given frequent references to tikanga in Acts of Parliament and its acknowledgement by the Supreme Court as part of the law of New Zealand.”

It said the council will respond further in the Regulations Review Committee, if asked.

Kelsey told the Herald it had taken New Zealand more than 40 years to get to the point where tikanga Māori can be accepted as part of a law education in this country.

However, Kelsey did wonder if the move to make tikanga a compulsory part of the New Zealand law curriculum was being pushed through too hastily.

“The problem is that Te Tiriti and tikanga as it is taught are still often viewed through a Pākeha lens,” Kelsey said.

“The latest moves by the Council of Legal Education are well-intentioned and seek to enhance those foundations, although personally, I feel they are rushing it and the groundwork, including understanding among legal academics of the complexities and nuances of tikanga and how it relates to Te Tiriti and to common law, is not quite there.

“It needs a couple more years. But the last thing we need is for senior counsel and senior politicians to take us back to the infamous days of the Wi Parata case in 1877 that said Māori were not civilised enough to have a system of law. That needs to remain in the dustbin of legal history.”

According to the council’s website, from 2025, the New Zealand legal education curriculum will include requirements for the teaching and assessment of tikanga Māori.

The existing compulsory law courses are: The legal system; public law; contracts; torts; criminal law; property law (or land law and equity and succession); and legal ethics.

The website further states, those who have a law degree and apply for a certificate of completion before January next year will not have to complete the new requirements.

“If you apply for a certificate of completion after January 1, 2025, and your ‘qualifications for admission’ are current – meaning they are less than 10 years old at the time you apply – you will not have to complete the new requirements.

“If you apply for a certificate of completion after January 1, 2025, and your ‘qualifications for admission’ are stale – meaning they are more than 10 years old at the time you apply – the council may require you to complete the new compulsory law course on tikanga Māori (Māori laws and philosophy) (in addition to other study or training).”

Overseas lawyers and graduates seeking admission to the High Court of New Zealand can also apply to the council for an assessment of their qualifications. They may be required by the council to complete the new compulsory law course on tikanga Māori if they apply from 2025 or their qualification is more than 10 years old.



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