The Māori Land Court recently released a judgment concerning the application of tikanga to Trustee duties under the Trusts Act 2019 and the Te Ture Whenua Māori Act 1993 (the Act). The judgment was published in both te reo Māori and English, which is the first time a fully bilingual Court judgment has been released in Aotearoa.

In this case a rāhui had been placed over a whare that the trust sought to demolish. The whare was located on land held by the Trust.

It was alleged that the Trustees of the land had breached their Trustee duties in deciding to demolish the whare, including duties arising from tikanga. The issue was made more complex by the fact that the rāhui was not placed by beneficiaries of the Trust, rather by another party who had connections to the whare.

While the Court found there was no evidence to constitute a breach of trust in this case, the judgment contained some interesting observations about the role of tikanga in trusts over Māori land. The Court accepted that while Trustee duties under the Trusts Act 2019 are now codfied, this is not a complete code and thus allows room for tikanga duties to be included.

The Court said that when considering trustee duties for an ahu whenua trust, it was important to consider the prupose of the Act, specifically the way it aims to recognise whakapapa connection to the land.

In light of this purpose and the objectives of a Māori land trust, the Court found that Trustees appointed under part 12 of the Act have duties under tikanga, regardless of whether this is included in the terms of the Trust. 

The Court held that the Trustees had a duty to respect legitimate tikanga protocol, but noted that this may be difficult to navigate in some circumstances. As such, the Trustees were advised to seek appropriate tikanga advice as necessary and engage in wānanga with impacted parties. 

For more information on Trustees of Māori Land and their duties under tikanga click here.


Peter Johnston & Alexandra McCracken