In one case, the Māori Land Court dealt with a situation where one of the trustees demonstrated an inability to work with the other trustees, creating disharmony among the trustees. The Court found that trustees are allowed to have diverging views, as healthy discussion and argument are part of any commercial forum, such as a trust.

However, trustees must be able to work together. When tensions spill over and affect the ability of the trustees to progress matters for the benefit of the trust, the Court may make a decision about removing trustees causing the difficulty.

Once a decision about the trust is made according to the trust order and Te Ture Whenua Māori Act, the majority rules. Trustees who have disagreed should be prepared to work with the majority to implement the decision which has been made. Failure to work with the other trustees was found to be a failure to carry out the trustees’ duties satisfactorily and the trustee was removed.

This is an important reminder that trustees of a Māori land trust should try and maintain cohesiveness within a trust. This can be difficult when there are a mix of personalities and whānau members in a trust, but failure to do so can result in trustees being removed.

Peter Johnston

Māori Issues Lawyer