21 Dec 2017

New challenge for Justice Joe Williams

1:10 pm on 21 December 2017

Justice Joe Williams has become the first te reo Māori speaker appointed to Court of Appeal.

Justice Joe Williams

Justice Joe Williams Photo: RNZ / Alexander Robertson

The Ngāti Pūkenga and Te Arawa descedant has had a distinguished career in law as a former High Court judge, chief judge of the Māori Land Court and acting chairperson of the Waitangi Tribunal.

In an interview on Morning Report, Justice Williams talked about what it meant to be appointed to the Court of Appeal by Attorney-General David Parker.

"It means a new challenge I suppose and kind of a daunting one. I'll find out what it really means when I turn up to work in the New Year."

Justice Williams graduated with a Bachelor of Laws from Victoria University in 1986.

He was inspired by early contemporaries at university including Māori lawyer Annette Skykes and Shane Jones.

"You can really blame Annette and Shane for me getting delivered to the tender mercies of the Court of Appeal."

There were only two other Māori students in his second-year law class but since then things had changed "massively" and there were hundreds of Māori law students.

"We've got to a point where the changes over the last generation have produced a kind of critical mass of Māori legal talent."

"We'll see that slowly making its way through the pipeline over the next generation I think, which is great."

In 1988, he graduated with a Masters of Laws with honours from the Univeristy of British Columbia, Canada.

His studies in Canada were a life-changing stage.

"I discovered the idea of aboriginal title, of aboriginal self governance which was very mainstream in Canada ... and brought them back to New Zealand."

Justice Williams worked on major treaty claims in his role on the Waitangi Tribunal such as the Wai 262 claim which looked at law reform affecting Māori culture and identity.

As historical claims come to a close, he said the next issue was working out how the treaty fitted into modern law policy.

"I think there's a big conversation to be had both within the community and within the government about the role of a treaty specialist tribunal once historical claims are completed."