Swearing in of Justice Durie

  • Doug Graham

It is a great privilege for me to address this special sitting for the swearing in of Justice Durie as a Judge of the High Court. Justice Durie's appointment is a very significant one for all New Zealanders but especially for the Maori people. His Honour is not the first judge of Maori descent to serve on the High Court bench. He is, however, the first to have built his professional, judicial and intellectual reputation in the jurisprudence of Maori law and Treaty of Waitangi principles. He is also the first Judge of this Court to come from a position of leadership within Maoridom.

Justice Durie was born in 1940 and it is perhaps significant that that date falls exactly 100 years after the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi. He was born of a non-Maori mother and a Maori father who traces his ancestry back to Ngati Raukawa, Ngati Kauwhata and Ngati Rangitane.

In his early days he went to school at Te Aute College and graduated from Victoria University with a BA LLB in 1964. He was conferred a Doctor of Laws (Honoris Causa) from Victoria University of Wellington in 1990 and he also received an honorary doctorate from Waikato University in 1994.

As a young lawyer he went into practice in Tauranga becoming a partner in the firm of Murray Dillon Gooch and Durie. The firm had a wide general practice and Justice Durie was engaged in a variety of work. In particular however he was to specialise in Maori land law.

In 1974 he was appointed a Judge of the Maori Land Court, the first person of Maori descent to be so appointed. He was appointed the Chief Judge of that Court in 1981.

His time on the Maori Land Court was to see some sweeping developments in that jurisdiction. Perhaps surprisingly decisions of the Maori Land Court and Maori Appellate Court had not been reported since 1958. That was to change when Justice Durie became the driving force behind the publication 'Taiwhati'. In a sense the publications are like an official set of law reports but they bear a personal stamp with Justice Durie's comments on a number of the decisions.

But Justice Durie has brought more to office than just recognition of the community of interest among owners of Maori land and the communal nature of customary title. He has brought also an incisiveness and an appreciation of the quality of judicial reasoning.

The judicial reasoning is something which shines through all of his judgments and something that particularly illustrates that point is that in the decision Re Motukawa 2B 22A and 2B 22B, Chase v Horton 1981 13 Whanganui ACMB 20. It is his dissenting judgment that is, with the passage of time, quoted more often than the decision of the majority.

In 1981 he became Chairman of the Waitangi Tribunal and his time in this hugely important office has seen some enormous changes for and advances by the Maori people. It has been an important facilitator of the settlements of grievances between the government and the Maori people over the past eight years. One has only to think back to the social and economic standing of Maori some 15 years ago and compare that with the position today in the light of the changes that have occurred to realise how significant a driving force Justice Durie has been.

To name but one example the report of the Tribunal under his chairmanship on the Muriwhenua fishing claim laid the ground work for the 1992 settlement of Maori commercial fishing interests. A result of that settlement is that Maori are now a dominant player in the New Zealand fishing industry.

The judge has never been idle in his spare time, if indeed he ever had any. He is a member of the Electoral Commission and a member of the Advisory Board to the Butterworths publication 'The Laws of New Zealand'. He is a trustee of the Institute of Advanced Legal Studies and has accepted appointment as the patron of the Cambodia Trust. He is also a trustee of the Strategic Studies Institute for Asia and Pacific.

He is a member of the New Zealand Planning Council and a member of the Editorial Board for the Melanesian Journal of Land Studies.

He has contributed a Maori perspective to Law Reform in New Zealand through his position as a member of the Maori advisory group of the New Zealand Law Commission. He is also a referee for the Foundation for Research Science and Technology and a member of the Advisory Council for the Australian Indigenous Law Reporter. Justice Durie has been much in demand overseas and has travelled widely and delivered addresses to a number of significant fora. He has presented papers at conferences, particularly on indigenous peoples, in Japan, the United States, Canada, Malaysia, Great Britain, Fiji, New Caledonia, Geneva, South Africa and Australia as well as New Zealand.

He has had a life long commitment to the Anglican Church and has been a representative for the National Council of Churches at Singapore and Canada. He is a synodsman for the Waiapu Diocese of the Anglican Church and a general synodsman of the Anglican Church. He is also a member of the Standing Committee of the Bishopric of Aotearoa.

For all his special interest in indigenous peoples and his strong ties to his Maori ancestry, Justice Durie is very much a product of both cultures. He is a great lover also of European culture and enjoys the opera, the symphony orchestra and the theatre.

At his heart however Justice Durie is somebody who cares most of all about people, his people and all New Zealanders. We have seen evidence already of his sensitivity as an adjudicator. In the Waitangi Tribunal especially that is a particularly demanding environment with traditional evidence and evidence that is technical, historical and anthropological.

I am sure that these personal qualities will stand him in good stead on the High Court Bench and that his presence will bring a new dimension to decisions of that Court.

May I extend my personal best wishes to you as you move on to another phase of your career. May I also express my appreciation that you will discharge your new office without relinquishing the chair of the Waitangi Tribunal. It is most unusual for a High Court Judge to hold such a position contemporaneously. That is justified in your case because of the enormous support that exists for your elevation to the High Court yet at the same time the pivotal role you play as Tribunal chairman as the country seeks to heal the wounds inflicted in the past. I hope that your time as a judge will be a rewarding and satisfying one. I am sure that the High Court and its jurisprudence will be enriched by your appointment.