Trainer v Leake involves a contest between “rival contenders as trustees of a religious trust.”
The Hawkes Bay Revival Centre is a church founded in 1986. It is run under the auspices of the Hawkes Bay Revival Centre Trust, a trust established by Trust Deed to hold real and persona; property “for the benefit of the Religious body known as the Hawkes Bay Revival Centre”. The original trustees included Mr Trainer, one of the two plaintiffs, and two other men.
Mr Trainer was the pastor of the Church from the outset and wielded considerable power under the Trust Deed. He had “oversight or control of such body in Spiritual and Temporal matters”, being recognised as the “overseeing pastor”. The overseeing pastor had the power to appoint and remove trustees under clause 11 of the Deed.
Between 1992 and 2004 there were a number of changes made to the trustees (the validity of which were not challenged). However, between January 1995 and April 2004 three further deeds of retirement and appointment were executed, and these were to give rise to later contention.
Following the retirement of a trustee in 2004, Mr Trainer and Mr Leake remained as the only trustees. Together they remained the registered proprietors of two properties used by the Church.
Doctrinal differences arose within the Church. In 2007 Mr Trainer relinquished his position as pastor and moved to Auckland. Mr Leake, previously assistant pastor, became pastor of the Church. However, he was never formally appointed in accordance with Clause 1 of the Trust Deed.
Later that year Mr Trainer signed a letter tendering his resignation. The resignation was not valid because it was not in the form of a Deed; however Mr Trainer had no ongoing involvement in Church affairs. Following Mr Trainer’s resignation, Mr Leake assumed the role of Pastor.
Some years later Mr Trainer purported to exercise powers he previously held under the Deed of Trust. The matter came before the Court as the competing factions sought to promote their own positions.
The approach adopted by the Court was straightforward, and as noted at , the proper interpretation of the Trust Deed was crucial to determine the outcome of the matter. At  the Court observed that there was no doubt that Mr Trainer had resigned as Pastor and that at the same time he intended to give Mr Leake “the complete reins of the organisation, of the Church”. There was also no doubt that Mr Leake had been endorsed as the Pastor of the Church by the wider group of the relevant churches.
The High Court’s Approach
The Court was of the view that on a proper interpretation of the Trust Deed the overseeing Pastor must necessarily always be a Pastor of the Church.
The Court’s reasoning was clarified at  where it appears the Court applied a form and function analysis of matters. The Court referenced the need for practicality and while, on the strict interpretation, Mr Needham could have been seen as retaining powers of appointment, the Court took the practical approach in recognising the need for the congregation to have faith in their Pastor.
The decision reflects a practical approach and highlights the importance of a principled approach to the appointment and removal of trustees and appointors. While the case could be limited to its facts it is suggested that the adherence to both the strict terms of a trust and its purposes needs to be viewed through a practical lense.
- Trainer v Leake  NZHC 682