Legal History and Theory

Many of the academics in the Faculty of Law are engaged in legal research that is theoretically and historically informed. Our wide range of courses in legal theory and legal history allows us to share these 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.

Academic staff researchers and teachers

Academic staff research areas

The following members of staff conduct teaching or research in the area of Legal History and Theory:


Field of Research

Charters, Claire

Indigenous Peoples' Rights in International and Constitutional Law

Dunworth, Treasa

Relationship between Domestic and International Law, Customary International Law, Law of Arms Control, International Criminal Law, International Humanitarian Law

Kelsey, Jane

International Trade and Investment Agreements, Financial Crises, Neoliberalism, Policy and Regulation

Khouri, Nina

Mediation Law and Practice, Evidence, Advocacy, Negotiation Theory, Civil Justice, Contract Law, Professional Negligence, Insurance Law
Michael Littlewood Hong Kong Tax, Chinese Tax, International Tax, Comparative Tax, Tax Planning, Tax Policy, the Politics of Taxation, Tax History, Constitutional Aspects of Taxation

McLean, Janet

The Public-Private Distinction, the Nature of the Crown, Bills of Rights, Bureaucratic Design, Public Contracting, Freedom of Information, the Nature of Unwritten Constitutions
Norton, Jane Freedoms of religion, expression, assocication, Discrimination Law, Bill of Rights, Charitable Trusts, Voluntary associations and unincorporated societies

Penk, Stephen

Torts, Privacy, Remedies, Vicarious Liability

Rosen, Arie

Legal Philosophy. Hermeneutics, Social and Political Theory, Constitutional Law

Sanders, Katherine

Land Law, Legal History

Stockley, Andrew

Constitutional Law Issues, including the Role of the Crown, Judicial Independence and Electoral Reform

Swain, Warren

Contract, Legal History, Remedies

Tolmie, Julia

Criminal Defences, Domestic Violence, Intoxication/Alcoholism, Feminist Legal Theory

Watson, Susan

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

Williams, David

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

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.  These include:

LAW 121 - Law and Society
LAW 131 - Legal Method
LAW 316 - Jurisprudence
LAW 458 - Legal Ethics
LAWCOMM 402 - Company Law
LAWGENRL 713 - Ideas of Land
LAWGENRL 422 - Women and the Law
LAWGENRL 423 - Legal History
LAWGENRL 435 - Theories of Private Law
LAWPUBL 420 - Advanced Criminal Law
LAWPUBL 429 - Law and Policy
LAWPUBL 431 - Advanced Public Law
LAWHONS 740AB - The history of the law of obligations
LAWHONS 741AB - Indigenous Peopls and the law 
LAWHONS 746 - Concept in Law and Security