A Maori Land Court judge says he has no right to order the return of ancestral land to the Ngati Tu hapu in South Taranaki.
During a hearing in the New Plymouth courthouse last month, Aotea Maori Land Court Judge Layne Harvey, of Rotorua, was asked to order the return of the Manaia land to the Ngati Tu hapu.
Hori Manuirirangi sought the order on behalf of the Ngati Tu Hapu Whenua Topu Trust, arguing that his hapu were the rightful ancestral owners.
The 38-hectare block in Winks Rd is under the control of the Parininihi Ki Waitotara (PKW) Incorporation.
The land is unused because of ongoing protests, threats and acts of violence.
On behalf of PKW, chief executive and secretary Dion Tuuta argued against the handover, saying the land legally belonged to the corporation.
In a written decision this week, Judge Harvey agreed with PKW, but was sympathetic to the plight of the hapu.
The complex background had wrought a complicated and bitter legacy of dispossession and disempowerment for the tribes of the region, the judge said.
But the legal issue was simple. The court did not have the jurisdiction to order the legal owner of land to vest that land in the trust.
"PKW is the owner of the land. It has the sole right to determine who it will vest that land in and on what terms with the increasingly rare exception, in the context of Maori land, of takings under the Public Works Act 1981."
The only other possibility for the hapu was to pursue an application to the chief judge, which the judge warned would be fraught with difficulty. Only by negotiation would an agreed outcome to both parties be revealed, he said.
The judge said PKW sought costs. It had outlined how, over a decade, it incurred costs and losses exceeding $300,000, borne by the shareholders.
PKW should file a claim within 21 days and the hapu would have a further 21 days to file a response before a decision was issued, Judge Harvey said.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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