Judge Heemi Taumaunu, Ngāti Pōrou, Ngāti Konohi and Ngāi Tahu—LLB 1993

Judge Heemi Taumaunu was appointed chief district court judge in September 2019 and is the first Māori to be appointed chief judge.

Portrait photograph of distinguished alumnus Heemi Taumanu wearing a korowai (Māori cloak) over his suit.
Judge Heemi Taumaunu was appointed chief district court judge in September 2019, and leads a bench of more than 170 judges and 18 community magistrates.

Born in Gisborne, he is the first Māori to be appointed to the role and is a fluent te reo Māori speaker. His tribal affiliations are Ngāti Porou and its sub-tribe Ngāti Konohi, and Ngāi Tahu.

He was appointed a district court judge in 2004 after a decade practising law, mainly in Gisborne, and a previous career in the New Zealand Army. He studied Law at Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington, where he was awarded the Quentin-Baxter Memorial Scholarship and the Ngā Rangatahi Toa Scholarship. He was the first person from Ngāti Konohi to gain a Law degree and to practise as a barrister and solicitor.

After a period as a solicitor with the Immigration Service and Te Puni Kōkiri in Wellington, he returned to Gisborne to practise law in 1994. In his 10 years as a barrister, he gained substantial experience in jury trials, as a youth advocate in the Youth Court, and as a lawyer for the child and counsel to assist in the Family Court.

Through various leadership roles in the district court, Judge Taumaunu has encouraged a wider appreciation of the value of culturally responsive justice. He led the development of Ngā Kōti Rangatahi o Aotearoa, the marae-based rangatahi courts, and his leadership was recognised internationally in 2017 when he received the Veillard-Cybulski Award.

He has been the tangata whenua representative on the Chief Judge’s Advisory Group and has chaired the Kaupapa Māori Advisory Group. In these roles, he has been a driving force in encouraging the district court to embrace tikanga as a way to enhance Māori engagement and confidence in the court.

Judge Taumaunu has also served as a judge of the Court Martial of New Zealand since 2012, including as deputy judge advocate general and deputy chief judge.