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Chris Finlayson: A Dual Legacy in Law and Politics

Chris Finlayson is a name that resonates with both the legal and political spheres of New Zealand. With a distinguished career as a lawyer and a transformative tenure as a Member of Parliament for the National Party, Finlayson has left an indelible mark on the country’s legal and political landscape. This article delves into his dual legacy, highlighting his contributions and ongoing influence.

A Stellar Legal Career

Before stepping into the political arena, Chris Finlayson had already established himself as a formidable legal mind. Graduating with a law degree from Victoria University of Wellington, he embarked on a career specialising in public law and litigation. His legal prowess quickly became evident, earning him a reputation as one of New Zealand’s top lawyers.

Finlayson’s work in the legal field is characterised by his commitment to justice and a deep understanding of New Zealand’s legal system. His expertise in Treaty of Waitangi law became a cornerstone of his legal career, setting the stage for his later political work. He was also a partner at Bell Gully, one of New Zealand’s largest and most prestigious law firms, where he handled high-profile cases and complex legal issues.

Transition to Politics

In 2005, Finlayson transitioned from law to politics, joining the National Party and becoming a Member of Parliament. His legal background proved invaluable as he took on roles that required a keen understanding of law and governance. His most notable appointments included serving as Attorney-General, Minister for Treaty of Waitangi Negotiations, and Minister for Arts, Culture and Heritage.


As Attorney-General from 2008 to 2017, Finlayson played a critical role in overseeing the legal framework of New Zealand. He was known for his rigorous approach to upholding the rule of law and his efforts to maintain the independence and integrity of the judiciary. His legal expertise ensured that the government’s legislative agenda was both robust and compliant with New Zealand’s legal standards.

Minister for Treaty of Waitangi Negotiations

Finlayson’s most significant political legacy is arguably his work as Minister for Treaty of Waitangi Negotiations. During his tenure, he was instrumental in advancing numerous Treaty settlements, resolving longstanding grievances between the Crown and various Māori iwi (tribes). His approach was marked by a deep respect for Māori culture and a commitment to achieving just and durable settlements.

He was responsible for several landmark settlements, which not only provided financial redress but also returned significant tracts of land to Māori ownership and established frameworks for ongoing co-governance. Finlayson’s work in this area was widely praised for its fairness and forward-thinking approach, helping to foster a more equitable relationship between the Crown and Māori.

Minister for Arts, Culture and Heritage

In addition to his legal and Treaty roles, Finlayson served as Minister for Arts, Culture and Heritage, where he championed New Zealand’s cultural sector. He supported numerous initiatives to preserve and promote the nation’s cultural heritage, recognizing the importance of arts and culture in shaping national identity and community cohesion.

Post-Political Career

After leaving parliament in 2019, Finlayson returned to his roots in law. He resumed practising law and has been involved in various public discussions, particularly around co-governance and Treaty settlements. His insights continue to shape public discourse on these critical issues, reflecting his enduring commitment to justice and equity.

Chris Finlayson’s career is a testament to the powerful impact that a dedicated individual can have in both law and politics. His contributions as a lawyer and politician have significantly shaped New Zealand’s legal and political landscape, particularly in the areas of Treaty of Waitangi settlements and the promotion of cultural heritage. As he continues his work in the legal field and public discourse, Finlayson’s legacy remains a beacon of dedication and integrity.


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