New Year Honours: First Māori Supreme Court Judge, the Honourable Justice Sir Joe Williams is knighted

8:22 am on 31 December 2019

The first Māori Supreme Court Judge has been praised for lifting Māori voices up in the justice system, and bring a unique blend of intellectual rigour and tikanga to the legal world.

Justice Joe Williams

The Honourable Justice Sir Joe Williams. Photo: RNZ / Alexander Robertson

The Honourable Justice Sir Joe Williams of Ngāti Pūkenga and Te Arawa has today received a knighthood for services to the judiciary, being appointed a Knight Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit.

He was the first in his family to achieve School Certificate. With a Bachelor of Laws from Victoria University and a Master of Laws from the University of British Columbia, Sir Joe went on to be appointed Chief Judge of the Māori Land Court in 1999, the Chairperson of the Waitangi Tribunal in 2004, a High Court Judge in 2008, and in 2018 and 2019 respectively a Court of Appeal and then Supreme Court Judge.

Speaking to Nine to Noon before Christmas, Sir Joe said he wasn't planning on studying law when he entered Victoria University until he bumped into some young Māori law students, including Annette Sykes and Shane Jones.

"I thought 'boy this law thing sounds pretty cool'. I had no idea what a lawyer was," he said.

"When I told my big brother I was going to law school, he said to me, in language more colourful than this, 'Are you going to join the police?' because he had no idea. Once I started at law school and realised the power of law, there was no looking back."

Justice Minister Andrew Little said Sir Joe had contributed immensely to elevating Māori voices and tikanga Māori in his legal career in a number of courts.

"Sir Joe Williams has made an immense contribution to the elevation of Māori voices in the justice system. This honour is well-deserved," Little said.

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