Since 1993 the objectives of the Māori Land Court have been quite different from the Native Land Court of the 19th and early 20th centuries. In the past the court facilitated the transfer of land from Māori ownership. Since then its primary objectives have been to:
- retain Māori land and general land owned by Māori in the hands of the owners
- promote the effective use, management and development of land by or on behalf of the owners.
All Māori land transactions must go through the Māori Land Court. Māori land generally has a lesser monetary value than land in general title because it can only be sold to a very restricted number of potential purchasers. The intent is to keep Māori lands within the ownership of the hapū associated with the land. The court also has jurisdiction to hear cases under the Maori Fisheries Act 2004, the Maori Commercial Aquaculture Claims Settlement Act 2004 and several other statutes.
Māori Land Court records
The Māori Land Court maintains the records of title and ownership information relating to Māori land. These records, particularly the early minute books, contain a wealth of unique information of great interest for historians, Māori-language students and researchers.
The court makes occupation orders enabling an owner to build a home upon ancestral land without having to obtain a separate title to part of the block. It must consider whether other owners support an occupation order, the best use of the land and the effect of the occupation order on other owners. This is one way that Māori may make good use of land while retaining it in multiple ownership.
Influence on Māori life
In the 2000s the Māori Land Court retains jurisdiction over many social aspects of Māori life. Marae are generally built on Māori reservations, and the court regulates the trusts and trustees that govern these marae. With regard to Māori land trusts or incorporations, the Land Court regulates matters such as shareholdings, dividends, appointment of valuers and auditors, accounts and balance sheets.
The court also has the jurisdiction to advise upon or determine representation of Māori groups. It can be asked to advise on the most appropriate representatives of a group of Māori for the purposes of negotiations, consultations, allocations of property or other matters. The court is also empowered to determine the appropriate kaitiaki (guardians) of taonga tūturu (precious artefacts that have been recently discovered).
Although many Māori no longer have contact with their ancestral land, the Māori Land Court remains a highly significant institution to the Māori people.