Chief Judge Heemi Taumaunu—bringing tikanga Māori into the court system

Chief Judge Heemi Taumaunu (Ngāti Porou-Ngāti Konohi, Ngāi Tahu) discusses with Professor Rawinia Higgins (Ngāi Tūhoe) how his experiences as a lawyer saw him create the Rangatahi courts

Aged sixteen, Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington alumnus, now Chief Judge of the District Court, Heemi Taumaunu (Ngāti Porou—Ngāti Konohi, Ngāi Tahu) joined the Army. When he was 21, his father came to see him at the army camp, and told him he should think about going to law school.

“I had read a lot of books by Apirana Ngata, so I was easy to persuade to go to law school. The only difficulty was that I didn’t have University Entrance. But it just so happened in 1989, Dr Moana Jackson started the Māori quota for the University’s Law School,” says Chief Judge Taumaunu.

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He was drawn from his earliest days as a lawyer in Gisborne to the practice of family court work and criminal work. “Ultimately one of the things that was very clear was the need to focus on ensuring fairness in the way people were dealt with. Many people saw the court as a place that they couldn’t seek justice.”

Chief Judge Taumaunu explains how his time as a lawyer helped inform his concept of Ngā Kōti Rangatahi o Aotearoa, which is now at 16 marae around the country. These courts see rangatahi brought to marae after they have undergone a restorative Family Group Conference, giving the offender and victim the chance to meet to address the wrongdoing and formulate a plan using te reo Māori, tikanga, and kawa (Māori language, culture and protocols) to prevent further reoffending.

Chief Judge Taumaunu was the first Māori to be appointed to the role of chief district court judge in September 2019, and leads a bench of up to 200 judges and judicial officers. He speaks about how this has changed his perception of what can be achieved and how he is making a difference.

Professor Rawinia Higgins (Ngāi Tūhoe), Tumu Ahurei—Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Māori) and Toihau—Chair of Te Taura whiri i te reo Māori—Māori Language Commission, speaks to Chief Judge Taumaunu about his experiences studying at Te Herenga Waka, and how he has sought to make the courts fairer for all.