In a recent decision the Māori Land Court considered the scope of its power to remove a trustee from their role. This case concerned a whānau trust that owned a block of land and had secured funding to develop a pāpakainga on the block.

Due to conflict between whānau members, one of the trustees disengaged for several years from his duties as a trustee.

He failed to complete the necessary documentation required for the trust to obtain loan finance for the development of the pāpakainga, halting any progress that the trust was trying to make to develop the land.

Accordingly, the other trustees sought to have the trustee removed from his role.

To determine whether it was appropriate to remove the trustee, the Court considered the standard of behaviour required under the Te Ture Whenua Māori Act for the Court to make an order for removal.

The Court found that the Act gives the Court a wide ambit to determine when a “trustee is no longer suitable to hold office as trustee because of the trustee’s conduct or circumstances.”

The judgment notes that in a recent case the Court had removed trustees for repeated failure to attend trustee meetings which made it difficult for the trust to make decisions.

The Court accepted that while the trustee may have had his reasons for not engaging, trustees cannot pick and choose when to engage with their trustee duties. If a trustee decides they no longer want to act as a trustee, they need to consider other options such as resignation or seeking directions from the Māori Land Court.

When there are relationship breakdowns between whānau members or trustees, trustees are expected to continue to work together for the advancement of the trust. Although the trustee argued that he was now willing to engage with his duties, the Court found that his prolonged refusal to fulfil his trustee duties had caused the trust to become dysfunctional.

The Māori Land Court’s objectives include promoting and assisting in the effective use, management, and development of Māori Land. The trustee’s actions were not in line with this objective and, as such, the Court found that he should be removed.

The Court held that his removal would be desirable for the proper execution of the purpose of the Trust, including to allow the pāpakainga development on the land to move forward.

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