Lost Cases

Recovering New Zealand's Lost Cases

Project Team: Shaunnagh Dorsett, Richard Boast, Mark Hickford, Geoff McLay, Damen Ward

New Zealand lawyers have discovered the importance of legal history, but many of the cases that have shaped New Zealand law, lawyers and even history remain hidden or lost in the archives, judges' personal papers or old newspapers. Not only are they unavailable except to specialist historians, records of those cases are in danger of literally turning to dust in archive boxes.

The aim of this project is to begin the systematic search for, and collation of, early New Zealand cases. These cases exist, not in published form, but in manuscript collections, archives, judges' notebooks and libraries. Many of these cases have been simply forgotten.

While New Zealand had comparatively good early law reporting, only a selection of cases were formally reported. Consequently, many important decisions lie awaiting to be recovered. The project is primarily concerned with Supreme Court and Court of Appeal decisions 1841-1883. In addition the project will look at Native Land Court decisions 1863-1883. The aim is not only to recover the cases themselves, but also surrounding materials.

A further important aspiration is to make these early New Zealand legal materials available to an international scholarly and legal audience. New Zealand is an important common law jurisdiction and its early legal history is of great interest to comparative lawyers and legal historians in other jurisdictions, in much the same way as English, Canadian, US and Australian legal history is of interest to New Zealand scholars. The project aims to make these publically available, free of charge, by way of the internet.

The project is funded by the New Zealand Law Foundation. The project is also overseen by a Reference Group, composed of eminent persons from New Zealand and overseas.

Materials and cases can be found at: www.victoria.ac.nz/law/nzlostcases