January 17, 2018
Appealing decision by the judiciary
Appealing decision by the judiciary
By John Tamihere
For the first time in our history a Māori by the name of Joe Williams has been appointed to the bench of New Zealand’s highest court- the Court of Appeal – as its first Te Reo speaking judicial officer.
Joe who graduated from Victoria University in 1986 has an absolute command of Te Reo Māori. He also has very strong ties to urban Māori through his representation as legal counsel on behalf of Te Whānau o Waipareira.
In 1992, I instructed Joe and his firm to take Wai414 – a precedent setting case, to the Waitangi Tribunal on behalf of Te Whānau o Waipareira. It was a landmark case that reaped positive outcomes for Urban Māori to attain the same rights as Mana whenua throughout the country with equality of rights as other Māori in health, welfare, education, justice and policy development. This result that did not discount Iwi groups from maintaining a stronger voice on resource management issues, given their Tangata Whenua status.
Importantly, Wai414 was also precedent setting in that it was not based on historical breaches of the Treaty, but contemporary breaches in the on-going obligations and duties of the Crown to Māori.
In keeping with Wai414 outcomes, West Auckland’s Hoani Waititi Marae represents a contemporary solution that came from the sweat of the urban Māori community of Te Whānau o Waipareira. A marae with a point of difference, Hoani Waititi welcomes all, regardless of colour, race, or creed, to come under the umbrella of the kaupapa and tikanga of an urban-based community marae.
New Zealand has sure come a long way since the time of colonial governments and the best way to view just how far, is to reflect on the career of one Sir James Prendergast. He was a Member of Parliament who was the Attorney General and later appointed the Chief Justice of New Zealand’s Supreme Court. Prendergast became vastly wealthy over the confiscation of Māori land. He did this by way of Statute and more particularly is acknowledged by his 1877 Court decision where he ruled the Treaty of Waitangi was a nullity because the Crown had the power to enter into the Treaty as a sovereign entity, whilst Māori were deemed to be “savages” with no contracting capacity.
This case was The Crown v Wi Parata. Māori Chief Parata had gone to court arguing that land gifted to the Anglican Church for a church and school had not eventuated. Therefore, said land should be returned to the tribe because the purposes of the gift were not met.
But Prendergast’s ruling determined that the Anglican Church did in fact hold a Crown Grant to the land and that Māori had no rights whatsoever, regardless of the Treaty of Waitangi signed 27 years earlier. This was a landmark ruling that influenced future decision making for decades to come.
Prendergast was appointed Chief Justice by his best mate and London neighbour, New Zealand Prime Minister – Julius Vogel. Once established, the pair embarked on one of the greatest legalised “theft” programmes ever witnessed in colonial history.
Luckily, gone are the days of greedy acquisition practised by Prendergast. But there are still those who continue to take from the needy, and in today’s world would be screaming for tax breaks for the rich.
Joe Williams has not and indeed, will not, use his judicial knowledge to emulate Prendergast. His appointment to the Appeal Court is not the result of a friendship with the prime minister or his ability to speak Maori but is based solely on merit.
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