More than 60 judges representing all New Zealand courts were among those who travelled to the special bi-lingual, bi-cultural sitting at the home marae of Chief Judge Heemi Taumaunu at Whāngāra on the East Coast.
Chief Judge Taumaunu’s tribal affiliations are Ngāti Pōrou, Ngāti Konohi and Ngāi Tahu. He is the first Māori to be appointed to the role. A fluent te reo Māori speaker, he swore his oath in both te reo and English.
The Chief Justice, the Rt Hon Dame Helen Winkelmann, presided over a bench extending the breadth of the Whitireia Meeting House and four rows deep. It is believed to be the most judges to have sat at one bench in a New Zealand court.
Ngāti Konohi hosted the ceremony, which was livestreamed by Radio Ngāti Porou.
Contributors to the whaikōrero included Supreme Court Justice Joe Williams, Whāngārei District Court Judge Greg Davis, Maanu Paul and Sir Pita Sharples. Members of the Bar to address the court were the Solicitor-General Una Jagose QC on behalf of the Attorney-General, Law Society President Tiana Epati, and Matanuku Mahuika representing Ngāti Porou and Te Hunga Roia.
Other guests included Ministry of Justice and court staff from around the country, Acting Secretary for Justice Carl Crafar, and representatives of Rangatahi and Pasifika courts.
In her address to the court, the Chief Justice stressed the District Court’s significance in the lives of New Zealanders. “This court is the face of justice for many New Zealanders. The judgments its judges issue will change lives,” the Chief Justice said.
“This court is the face of justice for many New Zealanders. The judgments its judges issue will change lives.”
Referring to the winds of change, she said there was an awareness that change was needed so that courts could deliver justice fit for Aotearoa and fit for this time.
Wearing the korowai of the late Sir Henare Ngāta — the son of Sir Apirana Ngāta, who was his inspiration to enter the law — Chief Judge Taumaunu said the focus under his leadership would be on improving access to justice in a court that dispenses 95 per cent of the justice in New Zealand.
Judge Heemi Taumaunu taking the Oath of Chief District Court Judge with Chief Justice, Rt Hon Dame Helen Winkelmann, looking on.
“It is important to recognise that the process or the way that people are treated by the court is just as, if not more important than the actual outcome that is reached by court,” Chief Judge Taumaunu said.
If people felt they had a fair hearing, this would enhance the legitimacy of the court within communities and enhance the rule of law. “And ultimately we will be residing in safer communities if that is the result.”