|dc.description.abstract||Aotearoa/New Zealand is currently contemplating legislative reform of Te Ture Whenua Maori Act 1993, the statutory regime that governs Māori land. With the focus of both Māori and the Crown once again strongly on the Māori land law regime, this thesis takes the opportunity to bring a new perspective to the Māori Land Court, as the legal entity that sits at the centre of that regime. It draws on law’s recent, growing interest in design-based concepts and practices and how these can usefully be brought to bear on legal subject matters. It combines law and design, within a Kaupapa Māori research and theoretical framework, with two overarching objectives: to explore whether a design perspective can enrich our understanding of the relationship between owners of Māori land and the Māori Land Court; and to explore what design might contribute to ongoing and future Court reform.
The relationship between owners of Māori land and the Māori Land Court is unique, and many owners of land may not be engaged with the Court or with their land interests, for a range of complex reasons. In illustration of this, many thousands of interests in Māori land have not been succeeded to through the Court, and remain in the ownership of a deceased individual. Design may make a valuable contribution here in that it encourages us to take seriously the notion that courts ought to be designed with all users in mind. This thesis draws on the emerging legal design field being developed by researchers in North America and Europe, and on accounts of Māori design within Aotearoa/New Zealand, to start to make the Western theory appropriate for application in our Indigenous legal spaces.
As part of the thesis, a small qualitative research study was undertaken with seven current Māori landowners, who have each recently used the Court to succeed to interests in Māori land. The research methodology was informed by design and Kaupapa Māori. Participants were asked to create collages and respond to exercises pertaining to their interactions with the Court, and then describe to the researcher what they made. The research sought to gain insights into the experience of succeeding to land through the Court.
Drawing on the results of that research, the thesis makes suggestions for how we can better attend to the experience of succeeding to Māori land through the Court, and better support those people who do so. The thesis also puts forward a framework for organising the different landowner relationships that surround the Court into three groups, of use, non-use (or potential use), and future-use. This framework may help us to consider how we can design the Māori Land Court system in such a way that all landowners will see its meaning and relevance to their lives.
The thesis also considers whether a design perspective might contribute to ongoing Court reform. The Crown has begun to mobilise “co-design” approaches towards policy and law reform in areas that affect Māori, and we may see a similar approach applied to the Māori Land Court in the future. To date, however, co-design approaches have promised more than they have delivered. The thesis suggests that a successful design-oriented reform approach to the Court would be collaborative, convivial, imaginative, experimental, and creative. It would connect with Indigenous political projects of reframing, envisioning, and creating. Furthermore, the field research suggests that Māori stakeholders are willing to engage in creative research methods, and that valuable insights emerge when they are asked to apply their creativity to issues of significance in their lives. These findings may prove useful if a design-based law reform approach is applied to the Māori Land Court in the future.||