Editorial: The law should prevail

Last updated 11:38 21/12/2012

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They lost in the High Court. They lost in the Court of Appeal. They lost in the Supreme Court.

Now the Tuhoe body-snatchers are saying they will be "unhelpful" if the authorities come to reclaim the body of James Takamore.

There comes a point where "unhelpfulness" is recognised as rank illegality and a distinction is drawn between legitimate cultural sensitivities and arrogance.

This is a case where Mr Takamore's sister and extended whanau have behaved with supreme haughtiness, snatching his body before burial in Christchurch and spiriting it away to inter him next to his father at Kutarere Marae, near Opotiki, against the wishes of his immediate family in Christchurch.

The latest finding, from Dame Sian Elias, concluded that his partner, Denise Clarke, who is also the executor of his estate, should be given the right to determine where he should be.

Who could protest, given that he made his life with her and their two children for more than 20 years?

Ridiculously, even this latest ruling doesn't mean that things are resolved.

The Supreme Court finding, while ultimately backing Ms Clarke's rights, still points her towards further consultation with the family. The upshot is that there will be another attempt at mutual agreement and, if that fails, it is back to the High Court for an order to enforce the exhumation.

The wheels of justice would, at that stage, have gone slowly full circle. And if it comes to that there must be legal consequence for any further mucking about.

We should be careful, though, not to project this conduct as being a simple case of tikanga versus the law. If that were the case, the law should still have prevailed.

As it happens, the whanau's behaviour falters from both perspectives. A degree of contention over a body is regarded as honourable to Maori but retired academic Ranginui Walker has said it has been clear widows have the final say.

Another academic, Rawiri Taonui, has detected little respect for Ms Clarke and her children. They had been pressured to speak for themselves when they were vulnerable and had been "taken advantage of by a whanau that created tikanga as they proceeded".

This was disrespectful behaviour. It was illegal. It was a bullying act that should have been corrected - and punished - promptly.

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- The Marlborough Express

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