Dispute over ownership of bull sent back to Magistrate’ Court after appeal succeeds

A dispute over the ownership of a bull has been sent back to the Magistrate’s Court after the Supreme Court upheld an appeal.

Lord Chief Justice Paulsen said the case should be heard by a different magistrate to the one who heard the original case.

The case grew out of a dispute in Neiafu in September 2016.

Kaati Halatoa brought a claim against Sam Tamale, seeking an order that he return a brown bull which had been removed from land where Halatoa kept his animal.

The Principal Magistrate in the original case ruled that Halatoa owned the bull and ordered that it be returned to him within one week.

Halatoa said he owned a brown  bull  that  was  born in August 2014. It was kept, together with other animals, at the tax  allotment  of  Sione Fisi’ihoi. The bull went missing towards the end of 2015.

In June 2016, the respondent’s son reported to him that he had seen the bull roaming at the tax allotment of one Tu’i’afitu.  This bull was retrieved and tied up at the tax allotment of Sione Fisi’ihoi. 

About two weeks later the bull was taken Tamale.   

Tamale argued that he had a brown bull that was four years old when it went missing in around May 2016. The bull was called Hercules and it was friendly and would come when called. The bull fled a couple of times and on the last occasion it went to the tax allotment of Fisi’ihoi where there are other  animals.

He  retrieved it and kept it on the tax allotment  of Siope Lonitenisi. He did not return the bull to the respondent because he was certain it was his bull.

Both side of the case produced two witnesses and Tamale produced three photographs of the bull.

Lord Chief Justice Paulsen said that with one exception the Principal Magistrate  at the original trial did not summarise or analyse the content of  their  evidence  or give reasons why he  accepted  or  rejected the  evidence  of any witness  and in  what  particular respects.

The Principal Magistrate  accepted  that  the bull in  dispute was  the  same  bull shown in  photographs.

Lord Chief Justice Paulsen said there was contradictory evidence about the identity of the bull and who had accepted the identity of the animal. There were also questions about how the bull had behaved when visited by a delegation during the magistrate’s court hearing and whether the same animal had been identified.

He also noted a submission that the Principal Magistrate in the original case had failed to take into account that the bull had been gone for months before the respondent retrieved it. 

“I did not hear the witnesses and have no way of assessing their respective credibility upon which the case falls to be determined,” Lord Chief Justice Paulsen said

“I have no alternative but to allow the appeal and refer the matter back to the Magistrates’ Court for rehearing.”

The main point

  • A dispute over the ownership of a bull has been sent back to the Magistrate’s Court after the Supreme Court upheld an appeal.
  • Lord Chief Justice Paulsen said the case should be heard by a different magistrate to the one who heard the original case.
  • The case grew out a dispute in Neiafu in September 2016.

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