Maori women in the judiciary

  • Parekura Horomia

The Governor-General, Her Excellency, the Honourable, Dame Sylvia Cartwright
The Chief Justice, The Right Honourable Justice Sian Elias
Dame Te Arikinui Te Atairangikahu
Dame Georgina Kirby
The Honourable Justice Lowell Goddard
Her Honour Judge Dense Clark
Her Honour Judge Karina Williams
Her Honour Judge Caren Wickliffe
Her Honour Judge Stephanie Milroy

It was with great pleasure that I accepted the opportunity to address you all today. The theme of this reception is “Mana Wahine” and what better reflection of Mana Wahine than the women judges in our court system today.

The legal profession has often been viewed as a male dominated field, and although there is a long way to go, there are some notable achievements made by New Zealand women that entitle them to the title of Mana Wahine.

The current level of participation by women in the legal arena is greatly different from 50 years ago when women represented less than 2% of total lawyers. Today, those statistics are more impressive, with over half of all law graduates and admissions to the bar being women. Indeed some of the pioneers in this transformation are undoubtedly here with us today at this reception.

Today I want to highlight some achievements of those pioneers who have led the way and forged new ground. It is those women who have achieved significant milestones that I wish to acknowledge today.

We are here to celebrate our mana wahine and first of all I would like to acknowledge the five Mâori women judges that are part of our judiciary.

The Honourable Justice Lowell Goddard was appointed in 1995 to the High Court of New Zealand and in achieving this professional honour, she also achieved an historical honour namely being the first Mâori woman appointed as a Justice of the High Court. She was also the first woman to be appointed a Queen’s Counsel. She shares this honour with our own Chief Justice Elias.

Her Honour Judge Denise Clark is another Mana Wahine that I want to acknowledge. She was the first Mâori woman to be appointed to the District Court. She presides in the Criminal division of the District Court and her efforts are reflected in a number of the high profile proceedings before the Court.

Since that time another Mâori woman has been appointed a District Court Judge. Judge Karina Williams was sworn in as a District Court Judge in 2003 and is renowned in her district for being a passionate advocate for improving the violent and poverty stricken areas of South Auckland and for overall being a staunch voice for her community.

During my terms as the Minister of Mäori Affairs I have had the pleasure in advising on a number of appointments including having responsibility for appointments to the Mäori Land Court.

Her Honour Judge Carrie Wainwright was the first woman to join the Mäori Land Court in its 135 year history in 2000. Her contributions to Treaty of Waitangi issues, mediation experience and partnership at Buddle Findlay have all put her in good stead for her continuing contributions to the Te Waipounamu district and Waitangi Tribunal.

Shortly after Judge Wainwright’s appointment another significant ‘first’ occurred for the Mäori Land Court. Her Honour Judge Caren Wickliffe was appointed to the Court and was the first Mâori woman to join the bench. As well as holding this historical honour, Her Honour Judge Caren Wickliffe to her credit has authored several reports and published numerous international papers and articles focusing on Mâori issues. She also has an extensive legal background including private practice and senior lecture roles at Waikato University. As a Mana Wahine she made her mark by notably taking the judicial oath in both Mâori and English, another first.

The third female judge to be appointed to the Mäori Land Court bench was Judge Stephanie Milroy and the fifth of our Mâori women Judges. Her background includes being a contributor to the Law Commission’s “Mâori Women’s Access to Justice”, being a senior lecturer at Waikato School of Law and developing ethics for the Midland Regional Health Authority. These women are all role models to women, both Mâori and non-Mâori and importantly can provide inspiration for rangatahi eager to follow their paths.

As well as acknowledging the contributions those five Mâori woman Judges have made to the judiciary and indeed the fabric of our society, there are a number of other Mana Wahine I wish to acknowledge for their contributions to the legal profession.

A number of our highest constitutional positions are held by women. Our Governor-General, Dame Silvia Cartwright has had an impressive career with milestones including: being the second woman to be appointed to the District Court (where she later went on to be the Chief Judge); the first woman to be appointed to the High Court; and the second woman to be sworn in as Governor-General of New Zealand.

Another key position is held by my colleague the Honourable Margaret Wilson. Margaret Wilson was the first woman to become president of the Labour Party, first woman to become Professor of Law and was the Foundation Dean of Waikato University Law School. She now holds the eminent position of the Attorney-General.

Our Chief Justice, the Right Honourable Sian Elias is another prime example of Mana Wahine. After appearing in a number of high profile Treaty of Waitangi cases, including the groundbreaking 1987 New Zealand Mâori Council Case she went on to become a High Court Judge, then warranted to sit on the Court of Appeal in 1998 and 1999. She then became the holder of our highest position in the judiciary, the Chief Justice in March 1999. Justice Elias will also be presiding on New Zealand’s final appellate court, the Supreme Court.

I would also like to take this opportunity to pay tribute to my colleague Georgina Te Heu heu who is a Mana Wahine in her own right. She was the first Mâori woman to graduate in law and also the first Mâori woman lawyer appointed to the Waitangi Tribunal. Her were pivotal to the Tribunal during the 1980s-1990s.

In my portrayal today of our Mana Wahine, we must not forget the Mâori men in our judiciary that have achieved or recorded some significant milestones. Most recent appointments include Judge Layne Harvey who accepted a position to the Mäori Land Court bench in 2002. His appointment marks a major achievement for young lawyers as he was the second youngest judicial appointment to the Mäori Land Court following Justice Edward Durie.

In terms of age, I acknowledge that the current Chief Judge the Mäori Land Court. The Honourable Joseph Williams is the youngest Chief Judge in history. Another recent achievement for Mâori men can be acclaimed by Heemi Taumaunu who was appointed in February to the District Court. Having Mâori in our general courts as well as the Mäori Land Court is an important step for the profession as it can be seen as to reflect our diverse society.

In having reflected on the achievements of a few of our Mana Wahine I am encouraged that they provide role models for the many young women coming through our law schools today. I am pleased that our rangatahi can look to these examples of Mana Wahine for further encouragement and know that they too can achieve great things.

We can all be proud of the achievements of these women and men in their journey to attain excellence. We can all celebrate in the fact that in 2004 women from the legal profession are holding the positions of Governor-General; Attorney-General; Chief Justice; and number three out of eight of the Mäori Land Court Judges. This provides something of a ‘touchstone’ or ‘benchmark’ and indeed a beacon to the future for all women.

In closing, I wish to acknowledge all those here today for their achievements. It is through our individual and collective contributions to our society and our communities, that we will build a better New Zealand for the future.