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Māori Land Court’s jurisdiction over PSGE Trusts to be decided on a case-by-case basis

The Court of Appeal has overturned a decision that the Māori Land Court has jurisdiction to hear claims against Post-Settlement Governance Entities (PSGEs).  The Court of Appeal ruled on two issues before it.  Firstly, that the PSGE trustees did not own the land for the purposes of the definition of General land owned by Māori and, secondly, that the Trust in question was not constituted in respect of General land owned by Māori or Māori freehold land.

The decision arises out of proceedings in the Māori Land Court and Māori Appellate Court involving an application by Te Kaunihera Kaumātua o Tūhoe for orders in relation to the appointment of trustees and other administration matters concerning Tūhoe – Te Uru Taumatua (TUT), the PSGE for Ngāi Tūhoe.

The decision was appealed by the trustees.  On appeal, the Māori Appellate Court upheld its decision.

In the Court of Appeal, the Court found that the General land held by TUT is not General Land owned by Māori, which would bring it within the Māori Land Court’s jurisdiction under s 236 of Te Ture Whenua Māori Act 1993.  This was on the basis that TUT is a discretionary trust and “beneficiaries of a discretionary trust have no interest in possession in the assets of the trust”, and TUT’s discretionary beneficiaries “do not, individually or collectively, hold any vested beneficial interest in the land that forms part of the Trust Fund”.  The Court went on to state “General land held by the Trust is not General land owned by Māori for the purposes of Te Ture Whenua Māori Act, because the estate in fee simple in that land is not beneficially owned by the Trust’s current discretionary beneficiaries.”

On the related issue of whether TUT was constituted in respect of General land owned by Māori, the Court of Appeal found that the focus should be on the time when the Trust was established.  The question is whether one of the original purposes of establishing the Trust was to provide for the holding and administration of one or more identified parcels of General land owned by Māori.  In this case, at the time the Trust was established, it was contemplated that it would hold land through a Treaty settlement, but the Trust was established for very broad purposes, including advancing the mana motuhake of Tūhoe and holding a wide range of assets for the long-term benefit of current and future Tūhoe iwi members.  It was not established to hold one or more identified parcels of land on trust for the benefit of the beneficial owners of that land. 

As well as this, the Court also found the Trust was not constituted in respect of the small number of parcels of Māori freehold land, as the Trust was not set up to hold those parcels of land.

Whether the Māori Land Court will have the jurisdiction over PSGEs/Trusts remains a question to be determined on a case-by-case basis, having regard to the Trust purpose and assets.

Kylee and Tiana are in our Kahurangi Team. Kylee can be contacted on 07 958 7424 and Tiana can be contacted on 07 958 9700.

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