All New Zealand courts celebrated the appointment of Judge Heemi Taumaunu as Chief District Court Judge at a historic special sitting of the District Court at Whāngārā marae near Gisborne on Saturday 19 October 2019.
Declaring Whāngārā surely the most beautiful place a court has sat, the Chief Justice, the Rt Hon Dame Helen Winkelmann, presided over a bench of more than 60 judges representing all levels of the court system. They sat four deep across the verandah of the Whitireia meeting house, in what is thought to be the most judges to ever sit together at one bench in a New Zealand court.
About 300 people came to see Chief Judge Taumaunu (Ngāti Pōrou, Ngāi Tahu) take the Oath of the Chief District Court Judge on the marae of his hapu, Ngāti Konohi, becoming the first Māori to hold the role. Among them were the acting Secretary for Justice, Carl Crafar, Group Manager, Courts and Tribunals Regional Service Delivery Jacquelyn Shannon, and Richard Williams, Regional Manager Lower North.
Registrar for the sitting was Gisborne District Court’s long-serving registrar Karauria Ruru, supported by the Chief Judge’s niece Torepe Taumaunu who is also a Gisborne registrar.
Karauria Ruru, of Te Aitanga - ā - Māhaki iwi, went above and beyond the call of duty, according to Chief Judge Taumaunu, and led local court staff, Maori wardens and Ministry of Justice security staff from around the North Island in ensuring ensure the day ran smoothly and was a fitting celebration.
Although it was a formal court sitting, the Chief Justice told those attending: “I want you all to feel you can laugh and that we are amongst whanau.”
The day began with a wero on the large lawn that separates the marae from the crescent shape of Whāngārā beach.
Overlooking events from the top of the wharenui was the distinctive Koruru of the original whale rider, Paekia – invoking the legend made famous by Witi Ihimaera’s novel, The Whale Rider, and the subsequent 2002 feature film made at the marae.
Wearing the late Sir Henare Ngāta’s korowai which he had worn when sworn in as a Judge in 2004 at Whāngāra, the Chief Judge said the best message he could give New Zealanders about the direction of the District Court was holding the special sitting on a marae “recognising the two founding cultures of New Zealand with a bi-lingual and bi-cultural ceremony”.
The Chief Judge practised law in Gisborne before becoming a judge, and was resident first in Whāngārei and then the Waitakere and the Auckland District Court.
Best known as the father of Te Kōti Rangatahi, his pioneering role in establishing the Rangatahi Courts was acknowledged by various speakers who included Supreme Court Justice Joe Williams, the Solicitor-General, Una Jagose QC, and Law Society President Tiana Epati.
“You have taught us how to bring the community into the court room,” the Chief Justice said. “You have shown how the involvement of the community can help repair and make whole again lives and whanau torn apart by poverty, addiction and violence.”
A video of the whole ceremony can be viewed on the Facebook site of Radio Ngati Porou whose livestream of the event has attracted 24,000 views.