Practising Māori law

Haines Ellison.

Haines Ellison.

Working at the Ngāi Tahu Māori Law Centre isn’t just a job for Haines Ellison, it’s a way to help others.

Haines (Ngāi Tahu – Kāti Huirapa), graduated from Otago University with a double degree in law and geography and began working at the Ngāi Tahu Māori Law Centre as a law clerk in January 2009. Shortly after, he was admitted to the bar and became one of the solicitors at the centre.

Haines, 30, enjoys helping Ngāi Tahu and other Māori community members with Māori free-hold land matters and he says there are some clear differences between practicing Māori and general law.

“For example, if you go into a general law office, you sit down say hello, chat about the weather and then dive straight into the matter the client has come to see you about; whereas here, we meet the client, we learn about their whakapapa and where their land is.

“Kanohi ki te kanohi (face to face) interaction is really important, as is ensuring you have good rapport with your client because a lot of the time they have to share intimate information.. Without building this rapport we wouldn’t get the information that we need,” he says.

Ngāi Tahu Māori Law Centre.xx

Although the job is rewarding, especially in cases where there is whānau reconciliation, Haines says there can also be challenges.

“We often have to deal with multiple owners in a block of Māori free hold land for instance. Quite often, a lot of the owners are deceased or overseas, so it can be hard to locate land owners. We also have to be careful when working with clients to make sure there is no conflict of interest because a lot of our clients are related,” he says.

Tikanga is important at the Ngāi Tahu Māori Law Centre and as well as applying the right legal principles, Māori customs are always considered when dealing with a case and a client.

“We are a community law centre specialising in Māori freehold land matters. We also offer assistance in kaupapa Māori matters and thirdly we have a kaupapa Māori mediation service. We are qualified mediators and our service is very much in the infant stages but when we have to mediate, we do it in a kaupapa Māori setting where we can acknowledge tikanga.”

Haines, who is one of the two Dunedin representatives for Te Hunga Rōia Māori o Aotearoa (The Māori Law Society) says it’s always a pleasure to offer legal expertise to those who are in need of support.

“It’s a privilege to learn all of the stories of our clients’ whānau, where their land is and be able to help whānau reconnect with their whenua, whānau and iwi – I get great pleasure from doing that.”