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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.



A Significant Period, 1870–1910

The first years of Parliamentary government saw few enactments of importance, but between about 1870 and 1910 there was a mass of legislation remarkable both for its volume and for its novel and often radical character. Many of the important differences between New Zealand and English law can be traced back to these decades. Thus the land transfer system was introduced (1870), primogeniture abolished (1874 and 1879), the procedure of the Supreme Court revised (1882), much of the present bankruptcy law established (1883), adoption (1881), legitimation (1894), and family protection (1900) introduced, married women given the right to own property (1883), the criminal law codified (1893), the principle of the Crown's liability for its servants' acts recognised (1877 and 1910), provision made for industrial arbitration (1894) and workers' compensation (1900), unsuccessful anti-monopoly legislation enacted (1910), and far-reaching reforms made in the field of criminal justice (1910). This was during a period when such questions as land tenures, electoral reforms, and the liquor problem were themselves responsible for much legislation.

Subsequently the flow of reform dwindled. A certain amount was done – the legislation providing for divorce on the ground of three years' separation, compulsory registration of land title, compulsory third-party insurance, and the relief of mortgagors and lessees was a product of the 1911–35 period. Nevertheless, insufficient attention was given to revising the law and keeping it up to date. Many English reforms were ignored and on several occasions the Law Society was critical of the failure to remedy various defects.