Legal History and Theory

Our wide range of courses in legal history and theory allows us to share important perspectives on law with our students as part of the Faculty’s commitment to excellence in legal education.

Legal theory provides a framework for understanding black-letter law as more than just a haphazard accumulation of rules. It invites reflections on law from multiple perspectives, such as philosophy, political theory, economics and sociology - reflections that promise a deeper understanding of the way law works and develops.

It also welcomes critical applications of feminist theory, critical race theory and post-colonial studies, which are necessary for the proper evaluation of law and legal institutions as well as for their potential reform.

Legal history is of particular importance for understanding New Zealand law. Our legal system is, in part, a branch of the old vine of English common law, with its peculiar institutions, categories and doctrines. It is also the product of a historical encounter between Pākehā and Māori, which is responsible for the constitutional framework of New Zealand law today.

History is also a vital adjunct in scholarly efforts to further the understanding of various areas of private law, including corporate finance and corporate law. Many of the academics in the Faculty of Law are engaged in legal research that is theoretically and historically informed.

Academic staff researchers and teachers

The following members of staff conduct teaching, research and postgraduate supervision in the area of Legal History and Theory.

Claire Charters | Associate Professor
Phone: +64 9 923 9436

Field of research: Indigenous peoples' rights in international and constitutional law

Treasa Dunworth | Associate Professor
Phone: +64 9 923 8008

Field of research: Relationship between domestic and international law, customary international law, law of arms control, international criminal law, international humanitarian law

Jayden Houghton | Lecturer
Phone: +64 9 923 8645

Field of research: Indigenous peoples' rights to knowledge and culture (particularly Māori rights to mātauranga Māori and taonga Māori), the Waitangi Tribunal process and its effect on Māori claims, and New Zealand legal history (particularly historical issues involving land or intellectual property)

Jane Kelsey | Professor
Phone: +64 9 923 8006

Field of research: International trade and investment agreements, financial crises, neoliberalism, policy and regulation

Michael Littlewood | Professor
Phone: +64 9 923 5633

Field of research: Hong Kong tax, Chinese tax, international tax, comparative tax, tax planning, tax policy, the politics of taxation, tax history, constitutional aspects of taxation

Janet McLean | Professor
Phone: +64 9 923 9720

Field of research: The public-private distinction, the nature of the Crown, Bills of Rights, bureaucratic design, public contracting, freedom of information, the nature of unwritten constitutions

Jane Norton | Senior Lecturer
Phone: +64 9 923 8118

Field of research: Freedoms of religion, expression, association, discrimination law, Bill of Rights, charitable trusts, voluntary associations and unincorporated societies

Arie Rosen | Senior Lecturer
Phone: +64 9 923 6738

Field of research: Legal philosophy, interpretation and legal reasoning, social and political theory, theory of private law, theory of contract law

Nicole Roughan | Associate Professor
Phone: +64 9 923 8392

Field of research: Jurisprudence, philosophy of law, legal pluralism, authority, theories of indigenous law, international legal theory

Katherine Sanders | Senior Lecturer
Phone: +64 9 923 8005

Field of research: Legal history, particularly land in New Zealand legal history, theories of property and property in land, law and historiography

Andrew Stockley | Honorary Professor

Field of research: Constitutional law issues, including the role of the Crown, judicial independence and electoral reform

Warren Swain | Professor
Phone: +64 9 923 1275

Field of research: The history of private law in England, New Zealand and Australia, legal biography

Julia Tolmie | Professor
Phone: +64 9 923 7837

Field of research: Criminal defences, domestic violence, intoxication/alcoholism, feminist legal theory

Susan Watson | Professor
Phone: +64 9 373 7599

Field of research: The legal relationship between shareholders and boards, the role of the board, corporate governance, the liability of company directors and professionals, the relationship between leadership and governance, the development of internal rules in companies

David Williams | Professor Emeritus
Phone: +64 9 923 5639

Field of research: Legal history - particularly English, colonial and New Zealand legal history, public law issues - especially those concerned with the Treaty of Waitangi and also the role of the Crown in the constitution

Courses available in Legal History and Theory

Any course in the Faculty of Law will include some aspects of legal history and legal theory. Some courses, however, offer a more systematic focus on theoretical and historical questions. Subject to availability, these include:

  • LAW 121 - Law and Society
  • LAW 316 - Jurisprudence
  • LAW 458 - Legal Ethics
  • LAWGENRL 422 - Women and the Law
  • LAWGENRL 423 - Legal History
  • LAWGENRL 445 - The History of the Law of Obligations
  • LAWGENRL 455 - Theory of Contract Law
  • LAWPUBL 420 - Advanced Criminal Law
  • LAWPUBL 429 - Law and Policy
  • LAWPUBL 431 - Advanced Public Law
  • LAWGENRL 713 - Ideas of Land
  • LAWHONS 716 - Legal History
  • LAWHONS 739AB - Theoretical Foundations of Private Law
  • LAWHONS 740AB - The history of the law of obligations
  • LAWHONS 741AB - Indigenous Peoples and the law
  • LAWHONS 746 - Concept in Law and Security