LAWPUBL 745 - Constitutions and Custom in the South Pacific

Lecturer Biography

Dr Alex Frame LL.D is a barrister and public law teacher who has advised governments for over thirty years on constitutional questions in several South Pacific jurisdictions. Most recently he has been Professor of Law at the University of Waikato. His biography of the New Zealand jurist Sir John Salmond (1862-1924), Salmond - Southern Jurist, was awarded the E.H. McCormick Prize at the 1996 Montana Book Awards, as well as the Law Foundation’s J.F. Northey Prize for best legal publication in the same year. In 2002 Alex’s study of the way in which our legal system might better reflect Maori customary law, Grey and Iwikau – A Journey into Custom, was published. In 2013, a ten-year research project was completed with the publication by Victoria University Press of Te Mātāpunenga: A Compendium of References to the Concepts and Institutions of Maori Customary Law, compiled, introduced, and edited by Richard Benton, Alex Frame, and Paul Meredith.

Course outline

This course will investigate the origins and structure of selected Constitutions in the modern island-states of the South Pacific against the background of the traditional customary law of the societies in each jurisdiction. For 2015 the Constitutions selected will be those of Samoa, Tonga, the Cook Islands, and French Polynesia, although reference will be made to other South Pacific jurisdictions, and research-writing will be encouraged into all the jurisdictions in the region under study.


Using the Constitutions of the selected island-states, and the concepts and institutions of Ma’ohi customary law, this course will examine:

  • The historical development and sources of each Constitution, and the patterns of constitutional principle found in them.
  • The fundamental concepts and institutions of Ma’ohi customary law in the island-states.
  • The balances and accommodations reached in the Constitutions between customary concepts and institutions and imported constitutional principles.
  • The approach of the Courts to interpretation of the Constitutions and to the resolution of conflicts between constitutional principle and customary values.


Students who complete this course successfully should:

  • Have acquired a practical grasp of the fundamental patterns of modern South Pacific Constitutions as applied by the Courts.
  • Have understood the nature, status, and some basic concepts of Ma’ohi customary law.
  • Have produced a research essay involving intensive research on an agreed subject within the range of the course.

Criteria & Marking

  • Students will be individually assessed on the quality of their contributions and writing with reference to the following criteria:
  • the extent to which the student has identified the important and relevant issues,
  • the depth and thoroughness of understanding of the prescribed materials,
  • the strength and clarity of the arguments presented,
  • the extent to which issues are placed in proper perspective,
  • the extent to which the student has displayed a grasp of the theoretical and practical issues.


100% research essay due on Thursday 30th May at 12 noon. Research essay word limit is 12,500.

Course Details

Semester One
Study mode Intensive
Dates 13-19 March 2019
Times 9 - 5pm
Location Room 340, Building 810, Level 3, 1-11 Short Street
Value 30 points

Contact Details

Postgraduate Student Adviser
Student Centre
Faculty of Law
Level 2, 1-11 Short St