‘Wisdom and humility’

HISTORIC DAY: Sharing one of many light-hearted moments at the swearing-in ceremony of the country’s first Maori Chief District Court Judge Heemi Taumaunu are, from left, principal Family Court Judge Jacquelyn Moran, High Court Justice Christian Whata, Supreme Court Justice Joe Williams, Judge Taumaunu, Chief Justice Dame Helen Winkelmann, and Court of Appeal Justice Dennis Clifford. Pictures by Liam Clayton
WELCOME: Chief District Court Judge Heemi Taumaunu is welcomed on to his home marae at Whangara.
Supreme Court judge Justice Joe Williams, addresses the gathering.
TAONGA: The korowai worn by Judge Heemi Taumaunu on Saturday belonged to the late Ngati Porou statesman Sir Henare Kohere Ngata, the son of the pioneering Maori leader and lawyer Sir Apirana Ngata.
STARS ALIGNED: New Zealand Law Society president Tiana Epati spoke at the historic swearing-in ceremony.

The country’s top legal professionals say newly-appointed Chief District Court Judge Heemi Taumaunu is the right person to lead crucial changes now needed in Australasia’s biggest court.

More than 60 members of the New Zealand judiciary and about 500 other people gathered for a special court sitting at Whangara marae at the weekend.

The new Chief Judge — the first Maori appointed to the role — chose his home marae as the venue in honour of the community that raised him and his father who is buried nearby. It is the marae where he was sworn in as a judge 15 and a half years ago.

Chief Justice Dame Helen Winkelmann, who presided over the special sitting, said the day’s blustery conditions were like the winds of change blowing.

The district court was regarded as the “people’s court”. Its more than 150 judges in the youth, family, criminal, and civil jurisdictions handled 200,000 cases per year and make 95 percent of the country’s judicial decisions. It plays a part in shaping the country, Dame Winkelmann said.

Judges within it knew communities were changing and the court needed to change too, “so justice can be delivered fit for Aotearoa and fit for this time”, she said.

The disproportionately high rates of offending by Maori must be addressed and there was a need to improve the experience of court users generally.

Chief Judge Taumaunu had the right persona, drive and commitment to effect that necessary change, Dame Winkelmann said.

Born in Gisborne, the new Chief Judge is of Ngati Porou sub-tribe Ngati Konohi and Ngai Tahu descent. He is fluent in te reo.

He is regarded as the pioneer of marae-based, culturally responsive and restorative-focused, rangatahi courts of which there are soon to be 16 nationwide.

In 2017, the initiative won him the prestigious international Veillard-Cybulski Award for innovative work with children and families in difficulty.

Chief Judge Taumaunu told Saturday’s gathering he too was confident in his ability to take on the challenge, to which he intended to commit for the next eight years before handing over to fresh leadership.

In whaikorero ahead of the special court sitting, the Chief Judge’s schooling, sporting, family, and career achievements were celebrated.

Role ‘as big as a whale’

Supreme Court judge Justice Joe Williams — the first Maori appointed to that bench — performed a moving variation of the Ngati Porou haka Te Kiringutu.

Formal addresses were given later by Dame Winkelmann, Solicitor-General Una Jagose, New Zealand Law Society president Tiana Epati, and Ngati Porou and Te Hunga Roia Maori representative Matanuku Mahuika, who is also Chief Justice Taumaunu’s cousin.

Chief Justice Winkelmann said Whangara was probably the most beautiful place a court sitting had ever been held. This was no doubt the biggest gathering of judges ever to sit at one bench.

That so many of the judiciary had travelled for the occasion, showed their respect for Chief Judge Taumaunu and the importance of the court’s work.

As the leader of more than 150 judges and a multitude of jurisdictions, the Chief Judge was taking on a demanding and enormous role — one as big as a whale. It was just as well he was a descendant of Paikea, Dame Winkelmann said.

The judges of the district court were ready for his leadership.

There was an awareness that those who needed the court’s help to settle disputes or who sought its protection found it too hard to get that help or protection. Taking a case to court was too expensive and too complex. Too many defendants before the courts were Maori.

Many defendants reoffended because they left the courts or the prisons with the underlying causes of offending — poverty, drugs, alcohol, and homelessness — unaddressed, the Chief Justice said.

Dame Winkelmann likened Chief Judge Taumaunu’s vision to that of his Ngati Porou forebear Sir Apirana Ngata. The Chief Judge had built on Sir Apirana’s wisdom that the Maori and European worlds could draw strength from each other to find new and better ways of doing things. The combined force of both worlds was stronger than each alone.

Solicitor-General Una Jagose lauded Chief Judge Taumaunu’s considerable judicial experience, and his steady commitment to securing greater access to the courts and equal treatment for all.

He had the wisdom, humility, understanding of the law, and creativity required to serve as a leader of the judiciary. He had the ability to acknowledge where we as a country had work to do, the courage to begin reform, and the tenacity to continue it, the solicitor-general said.

Mr Mahuika talked about the meaning of Justice Williams’ haka, saying while it was literally a protest haka about the law being a tool of oppression and division of the Maori people, it also pointed to the importance of Maori people taking up judicial office, bringing diversity to the role, and giving standing to the position of Maori and the challenges they face.

Mr Mahuika also referred to a saying by Maori leader Te Kooti Arikirangi Te Turuki who made a major shift in eventually recognising the law as the parent of the oppressed and the importance of the law in administering justice to the communities subject to it.

Ms Epati said the legal profession was excited for Chief Judge Taumaunu’s tenure.

One young lawyer described him as the “rock star” judge — despite his understated, measured, and quiet judicial manner. Ms Epati said she suspected the tag came from a variety of sources, including the Chief Judge’s ability to inspire a new generation of legal practitioners.

One lawyer described the Chief Judge to her as “a chief long before this appointment” and that it was “the rest of world now catching up”.

As a member of the judiciary told her, “the stars are aligning”. Chief Judge Taumaunu was “the merchant of hope”, Ms Epati said.

“Whether as ‘rock star’, ‘space-maker’, ‘connector’ or simply the ‘kind and patient’ judge, what we all know is that you will have your focus firmly fixed to the future of this country,” Ms Epati said.

The country’s top legal professionals say newly-appointed Chief District Court Judge Heemi Taumaunu is the right person to lead crucial changes now needed in Australasia’s biggest court.

More than 60 members of the New Zealand judiciary and about 500 other people gathered for a special court sitting at Whangara marae at the weekend.

The new Chief Judge — the first Maori appointed to the role — chose his home marae as the venue in honour of the community that raised him and his father who is buried nearby. It is the marae where he was sworn in as a judge 15 and a half years ago.

Chief Justice Dame Helen Winkelmann, who presided over the special sitting, said the day’s blustery conditions were like the winds of change blowing.

The district court was regarded as the “people’s court”. Its more than 150 judges in the youth, family, criminal, and civil jurisdictions handled 200,000 cases per year and make 95 percent of the country’s judicial decisions. It plays a part in shaping the country, Dame Winkelmann said.

Judges within it knew communities were changing and the court needed to change too, “so justice can be delivered fit for Aotearoa and fit for this time”, she said.

The disproportionately high rates of offending by Maori must be addressed and there was a need to improve the experience of court users generally.

Chief Judge Taumaunu had the right persona, drive and commitment to effect that necessary change, Dame Winkelmann said.

Born in Gisborne, the new Chief Judge is of Ngati Porou sub-tribe Ngati Konohi and Ngai Tahu descent. He is fluent in te reo.

He is regarded as the pioneer of marae-based, culturally responsive and restorative-focused, rangatahi courts of which there are soon to be 16 nationwide.

In 2017, the initiative won him the prestigious international Veillard-Cybulski Award for innovative work with children and families in difficulty.

Chief Judge Taumaunu told Saturday’s gathering he too was confident in his ability to take on the challenge, to which he intended to commit for the next eight years before handing over to fresh leadership.

In whaikorero ahead of the special court sitting, the Chief Judge’s schooling, sporting, family, and career achievements were celebrated.

Role ‘as big as a whale’

Supreme Court judge Justice Joe Williams — the first Maori appointed to that bench — performed a moving variation of the Ngati Porou haka Te Kiringutu.

Formal addresses were given later by Dame Winkelmann, Solicitor-General Una Jagose, New Zealand Law Society president Tiana Epati, and Ngati Porou and Te Hunga Roia Maori representative Matanuku Mahuika, who is also Chief Justice Taumaunu’s cousin.

Chief Justice Winkelmann said Whangara was probably the most beautiful place a court sitting had ever been held. This was no doubt the biggest gathering of judges ever to sit at one bench.

That so many of the judiciary had travelled for the occasion, showed their respect for Chief Judge Taumaunu and the importance of the court’s work.

As the leader of more than 150 judges and a multitude of jurisdictions, the Chief Judge was taking on a demanding and enormous role — one as big as a whale. It was just as well he was a descendant of Paikea, Dame Winkelmann said.

The judges of the district court were ready for his leadership.

There was an awareness that those who needed the court’s help to settle disputes or who sought its protection found it too hard to get that help or protection. Taking a case to court was too expensive and too complex. Too many defendants before the courts were Maori.

Many defendants reoffended because they left the courts or the prisons with the underlying causes of offending — poverty, drugs, alcohol, and homelessness — unaddressed, the Chief Justice said.

Dame Winkelmann likened Chief Judge Taumaunu’s vision to that of his Ngati Porou forebear Sir Apirana Ngata. The Chief Judge had built on Sir Apirana’s wisdom that the Maori and European worlds could draw strength from each other to find new and better ways of doing things. The combined force of both worlds was stronger than each alone.

Solicitor-General Una Jagose lauded Chief Judge Taumaunu’s considerable judicial experience, and his steady commitment to securing greater access to the courts and equal treatment for all.

He had the wisdom, humility, understanding of the law, and creativity required to serve as a leader of the judiciary. He had the ability to acknowledge where we as a country had work to do, the courage to begin reform, and the tenacity to continue it, the solicitor-general said.

Mr Mahuika talked about the meaning of Justice Williams’ haka, saying while it was literally a protest haka about the law being a tool of oppression and division of the Maori people, it also pointed to the importance of Maori people taking up judicial office, bringing diversity to the role, and giving standing to the position of Maori and the challenges they face.

Mr Mahuika also referred to a saying by Maori leader Te Kooti Arikirangi Te Turuki who made a major shift in eventually recognising the law as the parent of the oppressed and the importance of the law in administering justice to the communities subject to it.

Ms Epati said the legal profession was excited for Chief Judge Taumaunu’s tenure.

One young lawyer described him as the “rock star” judge — despite his understated, measured, and quiet judicial manner. Ms Epati said she suspected the tag came from a variety of sources, including the Chief Judge’s ability to inspire a new generation of legal practitioners.

One lawyer described the Chief Judge to her as “a chief long before this appointment” and that it was “the rest of world now catching up”.

As a member of the judiciary told her, “the stars are aligning”. Chief Judge Taumaunu was “the merchant of hope”, Ms Epati said.

“Whether as ‘rock star’, ‘space-maker’, ‘connector’ or simply the ‘kind and patient’ judge, what we all know is that you will have your focus firmly fixed to the future of this country,” Ms Epati said.

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