Whangārei Land Court orders costs at litigator for baseless claims against Māori trust

A judge has labelled the actions of a man who pursued a two-year legal battle against members of a Māori Trust Board, then withdrew at the last minute, as an abuse of the legal process.

Ngunguru Sandspit Society member Hone Tana has been ordered to pay $7760 in legal costs to the Pūkahakaha East 5B Trust following a recent decision from Judge Te Kani Williams at the Whangārei Māori Land Court.

In 2021, the trust - which oversees the interests of descendants from the hapū of Te Waiariki, Ngāti Kororā and Ngāti Takapari along the Pātaua Ngunguru coastline in Whangārei - bought land across the Ngunguru sandspit. Included was a block known as Whakairiora māunga.

This led to a cascade of legal proceedings brought on by Tana, who also sought to buy the land through the Ngunguru Sandspit Protection Society.

Tana contested that the trust’s ownership did not align with the interests of local hapū. He also alleged trust funds had been misused and trust land mismanaged, and that trustees had abused their powers.

He sought a review of the trust’s actions and operations through the Māori Land Court.

Considerable documents filed by Tana to support his claims failed to do so in the court’s eyes.

Judge Williams told Tana his application was seriously flawed and when he was granted the opportunity to file a second application, it too was flawed and largely repeated the first.

The applications were dismissed. However, Tana appealed and was granted a rehearing through the Māori Appellate Court in November 2023 under the grounds he had a right to be heard as a matter of natural justice.

Following the decision for a rehearing, Tana decided he wished to discontinue the process which the trust opposed.

The trust maintained he had tarnished the reputation of its trustees and was seeking to avoid presenting his poorly drafted evidence. It submitted the litigation had come at the considerable cost of time and money to respond to ill-advised and ill-prepared applications, and was an abuse of the court process.

Judge Williams weighed the arguments and expressed dissatisfaction with Tana’s conduct in his decision.

“The context here is that after having filed two separate applications, and an appeal to assert a right to be heard, Mr Tana has belatedly arrived at the conclusion that his applications are not going to succeed.”

Judge Williams said the trustees had also had serious and personal allegations made about them in court documents that Tana circulated to parties outside of the court and the trust, of which, they had no opportunity to address.

“To discontinue, therefore, would mean the trustees would be deprived of this opportunity to respond publicly to them.”

Judge Williams did not accept that Tana sought to save the trust - who are whānau - from the stress and cost of litigation.

“His actions to date illustrate otherwise.

“Mr Tana’s applications sought to undermine the mana and rangatiratanga of the trust’s work and in doing so, has trampled upon that.”

Judge Williams said Tana had cut across the principle of whanaungatanga [kinship] by issuing “frivolous and vexatious proceedings”.

“I consider that to allow the discontinuance would not address the injustice caused to the trust, therefore I find Mr Tana’s proceedings were an abuse of process.”

Tana offered an apology for making allegations of fraud and impropriety. However, no apology was offered for putting the trust through almost two years of judicial processes.

Judge Williams refused to allow Tana to withdraw his claims without consequences. Instead, he dismissed the proceedings and ordered Tana to pay the trust’s legal costs.

The judge emphasised how hearing time was precious as the court already had a two-year waiting list for applications to be heard.

“I do not propose to waste that precious time, sitting and hearing applications and assertions that have no evidential basis and no prospect of success.”

Counsel for Tana, Janet Mason, told NZME her client will be appealing the decision based on the costs ordered to be paid.

Tana advised he was unhappy with the decision and believed it to be extremely unfair and overstepping the jurisdiction of the Māori Land Court which appeared to be relitigating the earlier Māori Appellate Court.

Tana also advised, as the party who applied to discontinue proceedings, he is aggrieved at having to pay an enormous cost award.

The trust did not wish to comment.

Shannon Pitman is a Whangārei-based reporter for Open Justice covering courts in the Te Tai Tokerau region. She is of Ngāpuhi/ Ngāti Pūkenga descent and has worked in digital media for the past five years. She joined NZME in 2023.

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