Is there a 'best practice' model for the legal recognition of customary tenure? If not, is it possible to identify the circumstances in which a particular model would be most appropriate? This article considers these questions in the light of economic theories of property rights, particularly as illustrated by the World Bank's 2003 land policy report. While these theories have their flaws, the underlying concept of tenure security allows a typological framework for developing legal responses to customary tenure. In particular, this article suggests that the nature and degree of State legal intervention in a customary land system should be determined by reference to the nature and causes of any tenure insecurity. This hypothesis is discussed by reference to a wide variety of legal examples from Africa, Papua New Guinea and the South Pacific. The objective is not to suggest that law determines resource governance outcomes in pluralist normative environments, but to improve the quality of legal interventions in order to assist customary groups to negotiate better forms of tenure security and access to resources.