New Zealand Law Society - Bill to amend the Te Ture Whenua Māori Act introduced

Bill to amend the Te Ture Whenua Māori Act introduced

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The Te Ture Whenua Māori (Succession, Dispute Resolution, and Related Matters) Amendment Bill was introduced on 19 September. The Minister for Māori Development, Nanaia Mahuta, is in charge of the bill.

This omnibus bill includes a suite of amendments to Te Ture Whenua Māori Act 1993 designed to: enhance the intergenerational wellbeing of owners of Māori land; simplify the complexity and requirements that owners of Māori land encounter when engaging with the Māori Land Court; promote the efficient operation of the Māori Land Court; and ensure that the Māori land tenure system is fit for purpose.

The bill will enable simple and uncontested succession applications to be received, confirmed, and recorded by a Registrar of the Māori Land Court, instead of going through a full court hearing process (clause 26 inserting new section 113A.)

The bill clarifies that the tikanga of the relevant iwi or hapū will determine whether whāngai are eligible to succeed. If the court finds that the relevant tikanga does not recognise a relationship of descent, the whāngai will be eligible to receive income or grants from the estate and the right to occupy the family home (clauses 27 and 28 inserting new sections 114A and 115).

The owner of a beneficial interest in Māori freehold land may now leave the interest by will subject to rights gifted to their spouse, civil union partner, or de facto partner. The rights are to receive income or grants from the deceased owner’s interests in Māori land as well as the right to occupy the family home (clause 22 inserting new section 108A).

Similarly, if the owner dies intestate, their spouse, civil union partner, or de facto partner (in a relationship that had not ended) gains both rights (clause 23 amending section 109).

Clause 19 inserts new Part 3A which inserts sections 98H to 98S and establishes a dispute resolution process based on tikanga Māori to assist owners of Māori land to resolve disagreements and conflicts about their land.  Parties can now use mediation to resolve most disputed issues that the Māori Land Court has jurisdiction over (section 98H). Mediation is available whether or not there are already court proceedings about an issue (section 98R). As far as possible, the tikanga of the parties’ whānau and hapū is followed (clause 98I).

Clause 31 inserts section 131A so that the Māori Land Court may now make an order to change Crown land to Māori customary land, on application by the Crown. The owners must be defined as a class of persons comprising the previous owners and all of their descendants. But the court must not change the land in that way without a sufficient degree of support from the proposed owners.

The bill makes some improvements to the way the Māori Land Court functions and expands the range of remedies that a Judge of the Māori Land Court can employ to achieve an adequate outcome of a matter, for example an injunction (clause 6 inserting new section 19(1)(ba)), or equitable relief in some circumstances (clause 9 inserting new section 24C).

Part 2 provides for amendments to other Acts. The bill allows the Māori Land Court to hear applications relating to Māori land for a greater range of matters associated with the Family Protection Act 1955, the Government Roading Powers Act 1989, the Law Reform (Testamentary Promises) Act 1949, the Local Government Act 1974, and the Property Law Act 2007.

Most amendments commence on 1 October 2020 or six months after Royal assent, whichever is later.

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