Key Points:

Police are defending their failure to enforce a court order that could have prevented James Takamore's relatives from burying his body in the North Island.

Mr Takamore's body was buried near Opotiki on Tuesday after relatives drove his body north from Christchurch against the wishes of his partner of 20 years, Denise Clark, who had a court order stopping the interment.

The police Maori strategic adviser, Superintendent Wally Houmaha, said that with only four officers and a small window of opportunity, staff were in a difficult position trying to enforce the order.

"We had 10 minutes to serve a court injunction. A hole had already been dug and there were 200 mourners.

"It was an emotionally charged atmosphere that had been fuelled by media coverage the night before, so they knew we were coming.

"It certainly wasn't an easy situation to resolve."

Police were helping to settle the dispute between the opposing factions of Mr Takamore's family.

Ms Clark now wants to exhume the body for reburial in Christchurch and plans to go through the court system.

But lawyer Donna Hall believes any judge deciding on an exhumation order will have to seriously consider Maori customary law.

If Ms Clark was Mr Takamore's legal wife she would have a good chance of succeeding, but Maori customary law was becoming part of the country's common law, which complicated matters, Ms Hall said.

"This is where the law becomes very difficult to apply.

"This is not an invented practice but a widely held and widely practised customary law - that you go back to the bloodline, you don't go back to the partner," Ms Hall said.

Internationally customary law was gaining a foothold and New Zealand should follow suit.

Practical consideration also needed to be given to safety during the decision-making process, Ms Hall said.

"Judges are going to have to look very seriously at sending in officers - there's going to be enormous stress."

Ms Clark said she regretted that while her partner's will stipulated that he wanted to be buried, it did not say where he wanted that to happen.

Following tikanga (Maori protocol) after death should not override her family's wish to have Mr Takamore's body buried in Christchurch, she said.

"What about what we want? There's no respect for that."

Mr Houmaha said family discussions were going on to resolve the issue.

Funeral Directors' Association president Michael Hope said the "mixed and blended" nature of modern family arrangements meant undertakers were increasingly having to deal with bereavements in which the deceased had had a number of partners and left multiple children.

"You might get a clash between a new partner and the children from a previous relationship."

When Mr Hope's father-in-law died after 35 years spent in Otago, his Northland tribe, Ngapuhi, tried unsuccessfully to have his remains returned to the Far North.

"He had nothing to do with his family in that whole entire time."

Such disputes were rare in European society, he said.

The best way for people to ensure that their funeral wishes were met was to leave instructions in a will.

"The clearer you can make it, the more likely your executor is to carry it out.

" additional reporting: David Eames