Five of the six people charged with wilful trespass after the occupation of Kaitaia airport on September 9 formally entered not guilty pleas when they appeared before Judge Greg Davis in the Kaitaia District Court last week.
Eva Bridget Crockenberg, Anthony Gregory Housham, Reti Boynton, Barney Popata and Robin Popata were remanded, bail to continue, to December 16 for a case review hearing. Their attendance was excuse, but counsel Annette Sykes said they would wish to be there.
A warrant to arrest was issued when the sixth defendant, Selwyn James Clarke, again failed to appear.
Ms Sykes told the court that she had understood that a hui with the prosecution was to have taken place earlier in the week, in a bid to resolve the issues without court proceedings. Her clients wanted that discussion, but it had not taken place.
Judge Davis said the hui had been suggested by the police prosecutor at the defendants' previous appearance, but last week's prosecutor, Sergeant Peter Wackrow, said the district prosecutions manager had no interest in taking that option. Nor would diversion be considered.
"If there is no appetite for a hui then all we can do is proceed down the traditional pathway," Judge Davis said.
Ms Sykes replied that the court had an opportunity to avoid the expense of a trial (that she expected to require three weeks). It was not disputed, she added, that the government did not own the airport land but held it in a constructive trust on behalf of people including the defendants.
"Once we unpick the fundamental issue of who owns the land, the actions my clients took will be defined accordingly," she said.
She had not abandoned hope of entering into discussion with the prosecution, and wanted Ngati Kahu to be involved in that discussion.
"I encourage everyone to have meaningful discussions, but if we can't make these discussions work then we will have to go down the Criminal Procedures Act path," Judge Davis replied.
Ms Sykes also told the court that, in the event of the charges going to trial, she intended to defend one of her clients as a test case. The other defendants would accept the outcome of that process,
Meanwhile Judge Davis thanked the defendants for keeping their promise, made at their previous appearance, not to enter the airport grounds unless they were catching or disembarking from a flight. All agreed to continue abiding by that promise until December 16.