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Reports of the Native Affairs Committee, 1887, No. 1

No. 66.—Petition of Thomas Grice and John Benn

No. 66.—Petition of Thomas Grice and John Benn.

Petitioners complain that they have been put to very heavy expense and inconvenience through the action of the Native Land Court with regard to the Pukekura Block. They state further that they had suffered similar losses, and from the same cause, in regard to another block named Puahoe. They pray for redress and reimbursement of expenses.

I am directed to report as follows: That the facts as detailed in the petition are not disputed, and there seems to be little doubt that the losses referred to have arisen from the action of the Native Land Court. Through this it was that the petitioners had in a Court of law to defend their leasehold title to the blocks named—Pukekura and Puahoe. It is said that the law-costs in the defence amounted to the enormous sum of about £6,000, the whole area of the land leased being 8,395 acres and 8,612 acres respectively. The petitioners have successfully defended their rights in the Supreme Court, and afterwards in the Court of Appeal, in New Zealand; but an appeal from the decision has been carried to England, and what the ultimate cost is to be it is impossible to say. Though the petitioners were awarded costs in the suit they cannot recover from the Natives, page 5partly on account of the state of the law, and partly because of the poverty of the litigants. This is very hard; but the scandal is not less. Lawsuits such as this are, it is said, entered upon by the advice or at the instance of parties interested in getting lawyers fees or the chance of lawcosts, or in hope of levying black-mail upon the European occupiers. Lawsuits of a similar Kind have either been entered upon or threatened in several other cases in the same neighbourhood, and insecurity is generally felt in regard to titles. Even success in Court may insure ruin to the unfortunate holders. The Committee thinks that, considering the colonial interests at stake, the Government should get its legal advisers, the Attorney-General and the Solicitor-General, to carefully Consider the matter in its legal bearings, and should itself consider it in its political and social aspects, with a view to an equitable settlement. The economic value of a cheap and effective determination is incalculable. Expensive and protracted proceedings too often mean a total denial of justice. The Government might further consider how for compensation is due to the petitioners, whether legally or morally.

31st May, 1887.