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Browse the 1966 Encyclopaedia of New Zealand
Graphic: An Encyclopaedia of New Zealand 1966.


This information was published in 1966 in An Encyclopaedia of New Zealand, edited by A. H. McLintock. It has not been corrected and will not be updated.

Up-to-date information can be found elsewhere in Te Ara.




When New Zealand came under British sovereignty in 1840, it acquired, as a colony of settlement, the law of England – that is, the common law, together with those statutes applicable to the circumstances of the colony at the time. This law applied in theory and, later, in practice to Maori as well as to Pakeha. The natives outside the settlements could have been left to be governed largely by their own customs, as happened in some other colonies, and in the early forties the Colonial Office inclined to this view. Tentative and short-lived steps were indeed taken in 1844 and 1846 towards adapting criminal procedure to Maori conditions. Further than this the authorities were unwilling to go and, except in the case of land, Maoris and Europeans have always been subject to the same law.

A comprehensive system of Courts was quickly established. Despite shortcomings in earlier years due to primitive conditions, the need to use inexperienced laymen in lower Courts, and the small numbers from whom to choose, the Courts have throughout our history performed with impartiality and, on the whole, with efficiency the function of administering justice according to law.


Bruce James Cameron, B.A., LL.M., Legal Adviser, Department of Justice, Wellington.