A High Court judge in Christchurch has decided a legal battle over an alleged body-snatching should go to the Solicitor-General.
James Takamore died in 2007 and was due to be buried in Christchurch, but his Tuhoe whanau took his body to a family cemetery in the Bay of Plenty against his partner's and children's wishes.
In 2012 the Supreme Court ruled Mr Takamore's partner Denise Clarke could decide where he should be buried.
His body was due to be exhumed last month, but whanau members would not allow anyone near the grave.
Ms Clark's lawyer Gary Knight said Justice Fogerty has referred the case to the Solicitor-General's office which has the authority to carry out a compulsory disinterment, access private land and issue restraining orders.
"I think the family is encouraged by the judge's making it so clear to them that there's no way that the court is walking away from this. The judge intends and expects that the court judgement will be obeyed."
Maori elder Sonny Tau said the ruling would be a huge challenge for both the judiciary and the country.
"There will be thousands upon thousands upon thousands of Maori who will turn out for this. If it ever goes like that where tikanga Maori is challenged... run over, then you're in the heart of Tuhoe country."
Mr Tau expected Tuhoe to defy any ruling to exhume Mr Takamore's body.