Case details

Browne (Respondent) v Munokoa and another (Appellants) (Cook Islands)

Case ID: JCPC 2017/0054

Jurisdiction: The Court of Appeal of the Cook Islands

Case summary

  1. Whether the Respondent, who is the adopted son of the deceased and who is not related to him by blood, may succeed to the freehold title to the customary land of the deceased.
  2. The proper interpretation and effect, if any, of the Constitution of the Cook Islands in this case.

Richard Pare Browne ("the Deceased") died in 2005. His wife, Kurai Browne, died in 2013. The Appellants are nieces of the Deceased.

The Respondent, also called Richard Browne, is the adopted son of Kurai and the Deceased. They adopted him in 1964 when he was 16 years old, although he had lived with them since the age of three. He was not related to them by blood. At the adoption hearing in 1964, Kurai stated on oath that the respondent "will not get our lands". The Chief Judge annotated the adoption order to read "not to affect succession to lands." The Respondent later succeeded to additional lands which had been owned by his birth mother.

Teparekura Browne was the "feeding child" of Kurai Browne and is the niece of both Kurai and the Deceased. They never adopted her.

On 19 November 2014 the Respondent and Teparekura applied under section 448 of the Cook Islands Act 1915 to the High Court to succeed to 19 parcels of customary land which had been owned by the Deceased. Under the 1915 Act, succession to an interest in native freehold land is determined in accordance with "the ancient custom and usage of the Natives of the Cook Islands." The Appellants opposed the application and cross-applied to succeed to the customary land. Isaac J dismissed the Respondent’s application, holding that the succession would not be in accordance with Native custom.

The Respondent appealed to the Court of Appeal, which allowed his appeal. It ordered that he succeed to all 19 parcels of land. A different panel of the Court of Appeal later granted leave for the Appellants to appeal to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council.


  1. Ngamau Munokoa
  2. Diane Browne Holford

Richard Richard Browne



Lady Hale, Lord Mance, Lord Sumption, Lord Hodge, Lord Briggs

Hearing start date

21 May 2018

Hearing finish date

22 May 2018

Watch hearing
21 May 2018 Morning session Afternoon session
22 May 2018 Morning session