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Justice has no direct translation in Te Reo Māori. This idea of justice in Māoridom goes further than the weight a single word can give it. The themes of justice that exist throughout Te Ao Māori are woven into tikanga Māori – a system by which correctness, rightness or justice is maintained.
Tikanga is an old idea. It dates back to when Kupe came, bringing with him lore from Hawaiki that, with time, evolved to become what Māori know as tikanga today. Tikanga embodies a set of beliefs and practices, that help to organise behaviour and provide a framework to traditional Māori gatherings. Tikanga, based on whanaungatanga or kinship, has built-in rules of ethical and social value, that help to govern right and wrong.
Some time after tikanga was established as the legal system in Aotearoa, Māori inherited another legal system, the Common Law. Justice in the Common Law is focussed on the individual, holding them liable for the harm caused. This has been the dominant form of law in New Zealand since its introduction in 1840.
Māori crime statistics are abhorrent. For a group making up approximately 15 per cent of the total population of New Zealand, to represent over half of the prison population is one statistic to be ashamed of. Surely though, such disproportionate statistics point to a systemic problem. Our legal (and hence justice) system is inherently not Māori and does not uphold Māori values or thought patterns. It is not adequately equipped to deal with Māori issues and the conflict between tikanga and common law. How, then, can tikanga be emphasised in the justice system today?
The issue is not only with the law itself, but with those who deal with the law on a daily basis. Lawyers, judges and other legal professionals undergo no mandatory tikanga training in the course of their careers. How can they be adequately equipped to deal with problems stemming from Māori origins without some knowledge of tikanga?
Justice Joe Williams covered such topics in his presentation ‘Lex Aotearoa’. Most notable were the themes evident in the Environment Court regarding kaitiakitanga and the preservation of native land. Progress is being made in the Family Court with the introduction of the Family Group Conference and Rangatahi Courts. These emphasise whanaungatanga, a central part of tikanga.
A viable solution would be the mandatory education of our future lawyers, judges and legal workers in tikanga, something that is currently overlooked. This may help to bridge the gap that exists between tikanga and the legal (and hence justice) system. This will allow Aotearoa to move away from monocultural strangulation and towards a pluralistic system, where tikanga exists within the law. A justice system for all.