Former Attorney General Chris Finlayson QC is to receive an honorary doctorate of Law from Victoria University at the December graduation week.
A National Party Cabinet Minister for nine years, until 2017, the former Bell Gully partner had extensive experience representing Maori interests, principally Ngai Tahu, before becoming a distinguished Minister for Treaty of Waitangi Negotiations. He received widespread praise for overseeing 59 Treaty settlements during his time as Treaty Minister.
The LawFuel Power List member had previously overseen extensive ‘Maori wars’ fighting the Crown for his clients, saying in one speech “Ngāi Tahu mastered the art of aggressive litigation, whether it was suing the Waitangi Tribunal and [National Treaty negotiations minister] Doug Graham or the Director-General of Conservation. It was take no prisoners and it resulted in a good settlement.”
He said at the time of the speech in 2009 that there were ‘simmering grievances’ that needed to be resolved so far as the Crown’s conduct towards Maori was concerned.
“I believe that if New Zealanders were properly appraised of the issues, they would understand why people behave the way they do, why there is such distrust, why when we talk about restoration of the honour of the Crown we’re not talking weasel words but we are talking about something that is very important indeed. Our kind of Government is called to higher standards. If you don’t deal with these things it festers and gets passed down the generations.”
“Chris Finlayson has had a distinguished career of public service and is an outstanding alumnus of this University. We are proud to recognise his achievements with our highest honour,” Chancellor Neil Paviour-Smith said in a press statement this week.
Born and raised in Wellington, Chris Finlayson studied Latin, French, and Law at the University, graduating with a Bachelor of Arts in 1980 and a Master of Laws in 1985.
The VUW Press Statement
He practised as a solicitor in Wellington after being admitted to the bar, where his work included supporting Ngāi Tahu with its Treaty of Waitangi claim through a series of high-profile court appearances, culminating in the signing of a settlement in 1997.
In 2005, he became a member of Parliament for the National Party and, after the 2008 general election, he was appointed attorney-general and minister for Treaty of Waitangi negotiations. He added associate minister of Māori Affairs to his portfolios in 2011.
Chris Finlayson is particularly known for his work to resolve Treaty claims. During his term as minister, he was present at the signing of 59 Treaty deeds of settlement. Highly regarded for his work in this area, he received praise from political parties, iwi, and hapū, as well as worldwide attention.
In 2014, Chris Finlayson oversaw the Te Urewera Act, a key part of the Treaty settlement negotiated between Tūhoe and the Crown. In a legally unprecedented world first, Te Urewera, which was named a national park in 1954 and managed as Crown land by the Department of Conservation, became a legal entity with all the rights, powers, duties, and liabilities of a legal person.
After the 2014 general election, in addition to his existing portfolios, he was made minister in charge of the New Zealand Security Intelligence Service and minister responsible for the Government Communications Security Bureau.
Chris Finlayson retired from Parliament in early 2019 to return to the Bar.
Throughout his legal career, he has maintained links with the University, teaching and guest lecturing several courses in the Faculty of Law and co-authoring McGechan on Procedure, the leading text on the practice and procedure of courts in New Zealand. He is also an ambassador for the University’s Living Pā development.
Graduation ceremonies are being held in Wellington from 8–11 December.