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Opinion

Party hires NZ barrister for petition cases

Saturday 17 September 2022 | Written by Matthew Littlewood | Published in Court, National, Politics

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Party hires NZ barrister for petition cases
Cook Islands High Court. 12081330

The Cook Islands United Party has bolstered their legal team in their challenge over the election results in the Pa Enua.

The party, which previously employed Norman George as the lead counsel for three of their election petitions, have now assigned New Zealand barrister Sarah Wroe. George will now be the junior counsel.

Cook Islands United Party leader Teariki Heather said while they appreciated George’s help, the party thought it was time to use someone of “similar stature” to the ones the respondents to the petitions were using.

“We’re still pushing ahead with these petitions, and we need a really strong team to help us,” Heather said.

“We’re raising money for these legal challenges. We’ve already spent $36,000 on a deposit for these petitions. It’s important we have our day in Court.”

Wroe’s website says: “I am a skilled litigator with over 20 years’ international experience. I am an experienced trial advocate and am experienced in mediation and negotiated settlements… During my seven years of practice in England I appeared at every tier of the judicial system up to the Court of Appeal, specialist tribunals and Coroner’s Court”.

The Cook Islands United Party are filing petitions for Atiu and Mitiaro. The Atiu petitions allege that on June 13, 2022, the day the election was called, Independent MPs Rose Toki-Brown and Te-Hani Brown held an event giving away free food on Atiu.

The three petitions also allege that the Cook Islands Party’s policy to allow tax exemptions to everyone in the Pa Enua earning under $60,000 was tantamount to bribery.

At the call over hearing on Friday, which Chief Justice Sir Hugh Williams presided over, there was concern about the time the United Party had taken to finalise their evidence for the petitions.

Wroe promised the Court that all the information, including all the witness statements, would be ready by Monday.

However, lawyer Isaac Hikaka, who represented the respondents to the petitions, said there had been “repeated promises” from the United Party that they would have their petitions ready on time.

“The petitioners have had a month to get this sorted. It’s cramping my client’s ability to respond. It leaves us with only two weeks to respond,” Hikaka said.

“I appreciate (Ms Wroe) has been parachuted into this, and that’s never nice, but it’s not a matter that should rebound on the respondents.”

Hikaka also queried whether it would be able to get through all of the witnesses in the timeframe set down for the hearings. It is proposed that there will be up to 17 witnesses across the three petitions.

Chief Justice Williams set down the hearings to be held in Atiu to October 3 and October 4, where both the Atiu and Mitiaro matters will be heard. There is also a final day for the hearings set down for October 5 in Rarotonga.

Chief Justice Williams also heard the recount application by Cook Islands Democratic Party member Selina Napa for the Titikaveka seat. She lost the seat to Cook Islands Party’s Sonny Williams in the 2022 general election.

It was agreed that the affected parties would meet on September 20 to finalise a date for the recount. Chief Justice Williams suggested the recount could be overseen by three Justices of the Peace.

There is also a petition by Cook Islands United Party candidate Margharet Matenga, which argues there were at least six voters in the Titikaveka electorate whose vote should not have been counted due to them allegedly being ineligible to vote in that electorate. She lost to Sonny Williams by three votes. Chief Justice Williams’s decision is still reserved.