The Tuhoe tribe is planning to seek taxpayer money to fund a class action suit against the Government over "heavy-handed" tactics police employed during the so-called anti-terror raids.
Up to 30 iwi representatives are looking at lodging legal aid applications with the Legal Services Agency in the hope of mounting what could be a multimillion-dollar suit demanding redress over the October raids.
As a rule, the agency does not fund class action suits but considers individual cases on merit. That means if all 30 applications for legal aid funding were successful, the funds could be used collectively to mount a suit.
Tuhoe leader Tamati Kruger told the Herald on Sunday that while it would be unusual for "the State" to fund a case against "the State", the tribe was within its rights to seek legal aid for what had been a "grave injustice." Us seeking legal aid for a case against the Government is one of the anomalies of the system," Kruger said.
He added the tribe was one of the country's poorest, and had devoted all its resources to its Waitangi Tribunal claim. It had no other money to fight the Government over the raids.
Ruatoki - Tuhoe heartland - was at the centre of the police anti-terror raids on October 15. The tiny settlement, 15km south of Whakatane in eastern Bay of Plenty, was sealed off by armed, balaclava-clad police for several hours as officers searched for evidence linking locals to an alleged plot to "declare war" on New Zealand.
Some residents claimed they were traumatised by the police' actions, and they were made to feel like terrorists.
Among those arrested was activist Tame Iti, who was accused of being one of the "terror plot" ringleaders.
Police cited the Terrorism Suppression Act in the raids, but the Solicitor-General ruled there was insufficient evidence to show those arrested intended "to create terror" to advance an ideological, political or religious cause.
Auckland QC Peter Williams has interviewed several Tuhoe people about the raids, and Kruger and others are looking at compiling writs Tuhoe plans to file through the High Court.
Kruger expected the writs to be ready in two to three months, and from there applications would be filed for legal aid. There were several possibilities - including a financial settlement for Tuhoe. He was confident any case against the Government would be successful, especially in light of the Solicitor-General's findings. "Apart from providing the funding through legal aid, the Crown is also providing us with much of the evidence we need to pursue this case," he said.
The October raids were still fresh in the minds of many of Tuhoe, especially children left traumatised, he said. "For many it was a life-changing experience - to experience fear, terror and the prejudice that has come with that," Kruger said. "It is these feelings that have strengthened our resolve. There is a denial that anything wrong took place, and that is not right. The first step to forgiveness is an acknowledgement something did go wrong."
Legal Services Agency spokesperson Robyn Nicholas said an individual from Tuhoe applying for legal aid would first be income-tested and the merits of the application for funding assessed.
"That would include a look at whether the lawsuit had "a reasonable prospect of success".