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Land Tenure in the Cook Islands

The progress of Court investigations

The progress of Court investigations

Investigations of title can only be initiated on the application of one or more of the persons claiming a right in the land concerned.1 This has seldom slowed down the work of the Court, for once one person from any particular district lodges an application, others are forced to do likewise in order to protect their interests, and soon all are involved.2 Though in the initial stages Makea Ariki supported the work of the Court3 she became strongly opposed to it once she had seen it in operation.4 It was not long, however, before Makea decided that she must ‘put all of her lands through the Court in self-defence’.5

As most of his time was occupied with administrative duties, the amount of land investigation that Judge Gudgeon

1 ‘Rules and Regulations…’ 1902 clauses 5–7; ‘Cook Islands Act’ 1915 section 379. The latter enactment also makes provision for the Resident Commissioner to initiate investigations.

2 The island of Mangaia has remained throughout an exception to this rule. There, despite occasional individual applications for Court investigations, the Mangaian leaders (and probably a high proportion of the people themselves) are unanimously opposed to the Land Court and have been able to stop applicants from prosecuting their claims, and thus to forestall the entry of the Land Court to the island.

3 Gudgeon, NZPP A3 1903:24.

4 Gudgeon to Mills 23.12.1904 NZPP A3 1905.

5 Gudgeon to Mills 30.3.1905 NZPP A3 1905.

page 223 was able to undertake was limited, though by the time of his retirement in 1909 he had awarded title to all the more fertile lands of Rarotonga and Mauke. No further work was done until 1912, when Judge McCormick was appointed, and again in 1913, when Judge Gudgeon returned for a short period. Thereafter this work was left in abeyance until 1916, by which time there were 527 applications outstanding. Judge Ayson was then appointed to be responsible for High Court and Land Court work only and much of his time until 1922 was taken up with investigations - principally on Rarotonga, Aitutaki and Mauke. In 1922 Judge Ayson was appointed Resident Commissioner in addition to his other duties and accordingly found himself unable to cope with increasing arrears of Land Court work.1

Outstanding applications grew steadily and by 1938 there were 1,237 cases waiting to be dealt with, a number of which had been outstanding for more than twenty years. A fulltime judge was appointed in 1939 to deal with High Court and Land Court work, but the accumulation of outstanding applications nevertheless remained consistently over one thousand until 1955, when the figure dropped to 857. During more than half of this period there was one full-time judge of the Land Court, in addition to the Chief Judge who had High Court responsibilities as well.

That the Court has never since its inception been able to cope with the volume of work, and that with a full-time judge during the five-year period 1954–8 inclusive an average of only 800 acres of land was investigated each year,2 is a reflection of the complexity of the tenure situation, the small size of sections, and the volume of ‘maintenance’ work

1 NZPP A3 1927:15.

2 NZPP A3 1959:17.

page 224 involved in successions, partitions, appeals and so on in connection with lands already investigated. The total area of land investigated by the Court in its fifty-nine years of operation does not exceed 32,000 acres, or about half the total land area of the group.