A former Gloriavale member who has launched a potentially landmark legal case to try and remove the leadership of the West Coast religious commune has got his first day in court today.
Ex-member John Ready, who was banished from Gloriavale more than three years ago and who still has family members inside the community, has launched a civil claim at the High Court.
Ready wants the courts to intervene and remove the board of trustees of the Christian Church Community Trust - the registered charity behind the remote community based at Haupiri, inland from Greymouth – and have them replaced with a public trust "until a fit board can be found".
Senior Gloriavale "Shepherds" and figures, including leader Howard Temple, Fervent Stedfast, Faithful Pilgrim, can now be named as defendants.
It's expected that Ready – and his mother Sharon Ready, who has also been named as a plaintiff – along with others, will allege inappropriate sexual conduct inside the community.
"We want to show the court that [the board of trustees] is not fit for their job and have not acted in accordance with their own policies," Gloriavale-born dairy farmer Ready says.
"The Gloriavale leadership aren't the highest authority in the land, despite what they think.
"There's no discussion with the Gloriavale leadership and this is the only way to bring them to account."
Today, at the High Court in Christchurch, John Ready v The Christian Church Community Trust and others, got its first appearance before a judge.
Teams of lawyers appeared at the largely administrative "case management conference" first calling of the proceeding before Associate Judge Dale Lester.
Prominent Auckland barrister Brian Henry has teamed up with fellow experienced lawyer Dennis Gates, who worked together on the Winebox inquiry, appeared for Ready.
Ready alleges that Gloriavale, which has nearly 600 members, is run by a controlling leadership group who "brainwash" its members.
His lawyer Henry today said the trust's leadership group needs to be removed and "proper sexual conduct set of rules" brought in.
He alleged that the current set-up at Gloriavale was "breeding predators" and that members were "literally in slave labour". He claimed that the leadership uses "food as a weapon to control people" and that people are put on "porridge for weeks at a time".
"The trust has set up a village to look after people for life," Henry said, adding that they were obliged to provide a "proper and safe environment".
Richard Raymond QC, who is acting for several defendants including Temple, vehemently denied many of Henry's accusations in court today.
Raymond said the accusations were either untrue or historical.
It's likely that the court action faces a number of hearings in the future.
Henry said he hopes that the court action will result in outsiders coming in to take over the running of the trust.
"Someone has to take responsibility for the culture in the community and that person must initially at least be boots on the ground. There is no other way to stop this," he said.
"The power's in the money."
Ready says that his decision to go to court is not personal.
But he says he's not motivated by revenge or by a victim-mentality, rather he's wanting to speak up for others who have no voice.
"It's mainly about those who can't stand up for themselves."
Ready appreciates that the court action will be expensive and potentially drawn-out but is prepared for a long battle.
"There's just no going back," he says.
"We've crossed the line and we're going all the way."
The Gloriavale Leavers' Support Trust, which helps people who have left the reclusive community, has described Ready's legal action as a "David and Goliath battle".
Liz Gregory of the Gloriavale Leavers' Support Trust called Ready's move "historic".
"Most of the people who leave Gloriavale have grave concerns about the unhealthy nature of the community and they have remained silent and voiceless for a very long time," she said.
"We are supporting the leavers to speak and tell their stories and get change for their families and loved ones who are still in there."