A recent Māori Land Court decision highlights the need for Māori Land owners and governing bodies to keep good records.

The case involved two whānau groups who both believed they had rights to a section of land.

In 1993 one group built a small house and other improvements on the disputed land with no objection by the other group. However when their relationship deteriorated both claimed to have rights to the land.

One group claimed they had rights to the land under a 2004 agreement to occupy with the Māori Incorporation, the other claimed they had rights under a 1984 lease agreement with the Māori Incorporation.

The parties failed to settle their dispute at a meeting in 2012 and proceedings were brought before the Māori Land Court soon after.

The Court’s decision turned on which group had better evidence of their agreements.

The group claiming rights under the 1984 lease could not provide clear evidence of the lease to the Court. Neither the group nor the Māori Incorporation had the original or a copy of the lease agreement and there was no clear background evidence to suggest that it existed, including within the Incorporation’s meeting minutes.

Accordingly, as the other group did produce a copy of their 2004 agreement, the Court held in their favour and declared that they had a better claim to the disputed land.

The case provides a clear lesson to Māori Land owners and governing bodies that a failure to keep good records and retain important documents like leases can result in lengthy and potentially costly disputes later down the road.

Peter Johnston
Māori Issues Lawyer