What happens at the hearing
There is normally more than one hearing week held for an inquiry. The general order of proceedings over the course of hearings for an inquiry is:
- the claimants and Crown present their opening submissions to outline their arguments with regard to whether or not the Crown has breached the Treaty
- the claimants and the Crown present their evidence (this is sometimes arranged with all claimant evidence heard then all Crown-evidence, but all evidence on a particular topic may also be heard together). Evidence commissioned directly by the Tribunal will also be heard
- others with an interest in the inquiry present their evidence and submissions
- all parties present their closing submissions to lay out their overall arguments and show how the evidence that has been presented supports their respective cases.
Types of evidence heard
Typically, claimant evidence is a mix of oral evidence from kaumātua, rangatahi and other claimant witnesses, and written evidence comprising witness statements, traditional history, research reports, documents and audiovisual material. Evidence is, with some exceptions, usually submitted to the Tribunal in advance of the hearing.
At hearings, witnesses usually present summaries of their reports before the Tribunal. Evidence may be presented in te reo Māori or English and all witnesses may be questioned by the Tribunal and by counsel for other parties. Sometimes, in the course of a hearing, the Tribunal will visit sites of importance to the claimants (such as pā sites and wāhi tapu) so as to gain a fuller appreciation of the claim issues.
Length of hearings
The length of an inquiry depends on a number of factors. In a large district inquiry, there are likely to be several weeks of hearings. The overall hearing timeframe arises from the amount of work needed to prepare for each hearing, and because most panel members do not work full-time for the Tribunal. In a smaller inquiry, no more than two or three hearings may take place over a much shorter period of time. Occasionally, where a single claim is being heard and the issues are limited, there may be no need for more than one sitting, and that may be completed in a day or a few days.
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