One-time Black Power president continues fight to remain on Māori coastal land

11:46 am on 8 February 2023

By Tara Shaskey, Open Justice multimedia journalist, Taranaki of NZ Herald

Black Power member Kevin Moore says he has a right to live at the Rohotu Block in Waitara.

Black Power member Kevin Moore says he has a right to live at the Rohotu Block in Waitara. Photo: RNZ / Robin Martin

A notorious Black Power member once acquitted of murder is squatting on Māori coastal land and his almost decade-long illegal occupation must come to an end, a trust says.

But a lawyer for Kevin Moore, whose eviction is being argued in court, claims his client has a right to live on the land because he is a descendant of it.

Moore, in his early 60s, moved on to the site at Waitara's East Beach in 2014 and has continued to ignore orders to leave by the Rohutu Block Trust that manages the area.

Moore, a one-time president within Black Power and a member for more than 30 years, has built himself a house on the land overlooking the ocean without consent from New Plymouth District Council.

He claims it is his right as tangata whenua to live there.

But the trust, which manages about 8ha of Māori freehold land at the Taranaki beach under Te Ture Whenua Māori Land Act 1993, said Moore was not a beneficiary of the land nor did he have a lease to reside there. Currently, there are about 30 homes in the Rohutu Block.

When Moore, acquitted of the murder of a rival gang member in 1992, refused to budge the trust began legal action to have him removed.

In 2018, Māori Land Court Judge Layne Harvey granted the trust an injunction to evict him. That order is currently stayed, pending his latest litigation.

A later decision by chief Māori Land Court Judge Wilson Isaac ruled no errors had been made in dismissing Moore's claim he had an ancestral link to the land.

On Tuesday, the case was called before Justice Andru Isac in the High Court at New Plymouth after Moore sought a judicial review.

He is challenging aspects of Judge Harvey and Judge Isaac's handling of the case.

A judicial review is where a judge is asked to review an action or a decision that has been made under a legal power. The judge looks at whether the way the decision was made was in accordance with the law.

Appearing for the trust, lawyer Susan Hughes, KC, said there were no grounds for a review.

She said Moore had been occupying a portion of the block without permission or right.

"Since then a rearguard action has been mounted under various sections of Te Ture Whenua Māori Land Act, none of which has any merit," she told the court.

Hughes said the sections of the Act Moore relied on had not supported his arguments.

This was because the case was built on the basis of the 1884 Crown grant of land which listed the holding's beneficiaries.

"And any order that follows has followed the terms of that grant."

She said Moore was not a beneficiary and described him as a "squatter".

"He is on land which he has no legal right to be.

"Just because Mr Moore says he's entitled to be on this land, it does not make it so. There is no evidential foundation that would justify that."

Even if he was able to prove he was a beneficiary, the trust was under no obligation to give him a lease, Hughes argued.

The trust had acted reasonably and fairly throughout the lengthy legal stoush, Hughes submitted, and had been "exceptionally patient".

"Today needs to be the day that this is resolved, finally."

Appearing for Moore, lawyer Graeme Minchin submitted there was an error in the Crown grant.

That error, he argued, was the "wrongful" omission of Moore's tīpuna, or ancestors. He submitted researchers for the court had also advised there could be an error in the grant.

Minchin argued the case had not properly been heard in the Māori Land Court, and that the court also had the power to look beyond the original Crown grant when it made its determination.

"What we're traversing here is the difficult landscape of historical instruments, family names, whakapapa ..."

If it could be proven that Moore was a beneficiary, Minchin submitted Moore had a right to a lease based on the Act's preamble.

He should also be given priority over other beneficiaries who might also want the lease, he said.

Justice Isac reserved his decision and indicated it may be some time before he could issue a judgment. The eviction stay would remain in place until then.

* This story originally appeared in the New Zealand Herald.