Director of Rotorua-based law firm Tū Pono Legal, Terena Wara, has been appointed as a Judge of the Māori Land Court.
The announcement Wara would be appointed alongside Damian Stone was made by Māori development minister Nanaia Mahuta shortly before Christmas.
Mahuta said both Wara and Stone had built strong reputations working with whānau through their private practice.
"Damian Stone and Terena Wara are highly capable lawyers and have the necessary skills and expertise to fulfil the role."
As well as being a director at Tū Pono Legal, Wara has significant experience in the Māori Land Court and the Waitangi Tribunal.
Mahuta said the appointments would greatly strengthen the bench of the Māori Land Court.
"The Māori Land Court bench will benefit from their skills in the important role it plays for Māori landowners.
"Whenua is a fundamental component of Māori culture, providing a sense of identity and belonging for current and future generations and this is recognised and supported by the Māori Land Court," Mahuta said.
Wara has practised law in Rotorua since 2006.
She started with East Brewster under the guidance of Judge Alayne Wills before moving to Rangitauira & Co in 2007.
In 2014 she established Tū Pono Legal with her co-director and partner, Jason Pou, specialising in resolving Māori legal issues.
"I have extensive experience in both the Māori Land Court as well as the Waitangi Tribunal and am passionate about serving my people to resolve their legal needs."
Wara said she was humbled and honoured to receive the appointment of Judge.
"The Māori Land Court is such an important forum for our people.
"It is the only Court that is designed to serve Māori, recognising the special relationships our people have to the whenua and with each other, and ensuring that those who have the responsibility of making decisions have a sound knowledge and understanding of those relationships."
Wara said she would be following in the footsteps of her friend and colleague, esteemed former Rotorua practitioner Judge Miharo Armstrong who was appointed in 2014, as well as the late Judge David Ambler, appointed in 2006.
Judge Patrick Savage who served on the bench of the Māori Land Court from 1994 has been reappointed as an Acting Judge of the Māori Land Court.
The Court is a judicial forum which provides a service for owners of Māori land, their whānau and their hapū, which promotes the retention and use of Māori land and facilitates the occupation, development and use of that land.
The Court has existed since the early Native Land Commission in 1862 and the establishment of the Native Land Court in 1865.
Over this period the court has collected and maintained records of over 15 million documents, all of which are linked in some way to Māori land.