Understanding Legal Hawaii Regulations

For lawyers and law students who practice or study outside of Hawaii, a basic familiarity with the Hawaiian legal system can be helpful. In addition to a unique island legal culture, Hawaii also is subject to U.S. federal laws, as well as the state and local laws of other states.

In many ways, the law of Hawaii is similar to that of most other states. Nevertheless, the Hawaiian state code is lengthy and somewhat difficult to navigate. A good starting point is the Session Laws (SLH), an annual compilation of laws enacted during each legislative session, arranged by act number. In addition to the legislation itself, the SLH contains a useful index, tables showing which sections of the Hawaii Revised Statutes (HRS) are affected by each act, and lists of committee reports.

Hawaii’s judicial system is organized into four circuits, which coincide with the geographical boundaries of the state’s counties. The First Circuit covers the City & County of Honolulu and the neighboring islands, including Oahu, Maui, Molokai, and Lanai. The Second Circuit covers the islands of Kauai and Niihau. The Third Circuit is based in Kona and encompasses the Big Island. The Fourth Circuit is headquartered in Hilo and covers the other islands of the state, including Niihau, Kahoolawe, and Molokai.

While the traditional Polynesian legal system was largely oral, within a short time after the introduction of a written alphabet and Calvinist beliefs, Hawaii had adopted a charter of rights and a constitution modeled on Anglo-American law. In addition, the earliest recorded laws of Hawaii include a few royal edicts.

Generally, the prevailing common law principles of the United States are followed in Hawaii. Moreover, the Supreme Court of the United States and most other courts in Hawaii are subject to the U.S. Constitution and the common law of other states. Thus, Hawaii’s courts are subject to a variety of different types of case law from the various jurisdictions of the country as a whole.

A significant portion of the Hawaii Bar has been born in or has studied in the continental United States. As a result, many Hawaii lawyers are well versed in the law of the United States, including the federal laws that apply to all fifty states.

For those who have a particular interest in the law of Hawaii, there are articles at FindLaw on specific topics, such as property and real estate laws, divorce, criminal laws, and other areas of the law. In addition, there are articles that address issues peculiar to the state of Hawaii, such as adverse possession laws and homestead protection laws. A full list of all FindLaw articles about the law of Hawaii is available here. Note, however, that it is important for all users of this site to understand that there is no guarantee that any particular Hawaii law will be up-to-date or correct. The laws of Hawaii can change frequently, and some changes will not be reflected on this site until they are made into effective law.