The Waitangi Tribunal recently released a report on Whakatika ki Runga, a mini-inquiry into how accessible it is for Māori to fund Waitangi Tribunal claims.

Since the early 1990’s, the Crown Forestry Rental Trust (the Trust) has had a comprehensive system to fund Waitangi Tribunal claimants. This funding covers things like research to prepare for hearings, office and administrative costs, and flights and accommodation for claimants to attend hearings. It also contributes large amounts to the costs of running hearings, such as venue hire, catering and site visits.

The Trust was created as part of a Waitangi Tribunal settlement in the 1987 Lands case. Interest from investing the rent from Crown forestry land is used to fund claimants. However, the Trust can only fund claimants whose claims involve Crown forestry land.

This has not been a problem in the past because most Waitangi Tribunal claims dealt with Treaty breaches on Crown forestry land as part of historical inquiries. These historical claims are winding up, and the Tribunal is increasingly working on Kaupapa Inquiries – looking at nationwide issues which affect Māori as a whole, such as the health or justice systems.

Kaupapa Inquiries do not concern Crown forestry land, so are not eligible for funding from the Trust. This raises significant concerns about the ability of claimants to access the Waitangi Tribunal.

Crown agencies involved in different Kaupapa Inquiries have developed systems to bridge this gap in funding in a haphazard way. Most involve a claimant paying for things upfront before being reimbursed, which can place a considerable financial barrier on someone participating in this important process. Levels of funding available differ across these agencies.

The Tribunal found that the Crown has an obligation to make the Waitangi Tribunal process accessible for claimants in a realistic and practical way. This includes an obligation to provide funding. Treaty principles of partnership, equality, and the duty of active protection were some of the reasons for this obligation.

The Tribunal made a long term recommendation that the Crown work with Māori to develop a funding system that works for claimants, and suggested looking to whether the Trust’s system could be used as a model.

In the short term, the Tribunal recommended that the Crown make the current funding systems across different agencies consistent with each other. It also recommended the Crown stop expecting claimants to pay upfront, and instead to use services like a travel management supplier to remove barriers for claimants.

The Tribunal will make further recommendations in a later report about changes that are needed to the legal aid system, which provides funding for claimant’s lawyers.

You can read more about the report here.


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