Trustees of a post-settlement governance entity sold land, and now they and the purchasers face claims from iwi members who allege the sale was a breach of trust. Iwi members filed a claim in the High Court, which was later withdrawn. After the withdrawal, an almost identical claim was filed in the Māori Land Court.

In preliminary proceedings, the Māori Land Court considered the trustees and purchasers argument that the duplication was grounds for the claim to be struck out as an abuse of process. The trustees and purchasers said that the applicants should have continued to pursue their claim through the High Court.

Fictitious, sham, or vexatious claims can amount to an abuse of process, as can claims filed for an improper purpose. The trustees and purchasers argued that they had invested considerable time and resources preparing for the High Court trial, and after it was withdrawn they had moved forward with developing the land.

The Court reaffirmed that a duplication of proceedings does not automatically constitute an abuse of process, rather it is a question of the facts of each case.

There is a very high threshold before the Court can strike out an application as an abuse of process. This is because the Court has a fundamental duty to protect citizens’ rights to access the Court.

In this case the Court did not find an abuse of process. The High Court claim had been withdrawn, so this was not a situation where the trustees and purchasers were facing concurrent identical claims.

The Court noted that the slight appearance that the iwi members were shopping around for the best place to advance their claim did not amount to an abuse of process because the Court had jurisdiction to hear the claims.

The substantive issue of the case – a breach of duty by the trustees – is also a serious allegation which ought to be heard, the Court said.

We will keep you up to date with any relevant developments of this case.


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