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JP retires after two decades of service

Saturday 8 January 2022 | Written by Melina Etches | Published in Features, Memory Lane


JP retires after two decades of service
Justices of the Peace farewell retired colleague JP Rima David. Back from left: Semi Teiotu, Nga Mataio, Tearoa Tini, Nadine Short Newnham, Vania Kenning Kauraka-Tangaroa, Bernice Manarangi. Front from left: Georgina Keenan Williams, Rima David, Tangi Taoro and Carmen Temata. 21120231

After 20 years on the bench, Justice of the Peace (JP) Rima David retired from court duties in September last year. She shares her experience with senior journalist Melina Etches.

Rima David had given an exceptional 63 years of service as a public servant to the Cook Islands.

Known for her no-nonsense approach in the Land Court, at 80 years of age, Rima is dignified, witty, with a sharp sense of humour and still gets out and about on her motorbike.

Born on  February 12, 1941 on Rarotonga, Rima married the late Ngatupuna David in October 1959, and is a mother to seven children.

She shares with Cook Islands News her experiences as a JP following a special luncheon hosted by other Justices of the Peace for her “retirement” at the Tamarind House in November.

“JPs must have the confidence of delivering,” says Rima,

“I have enjoyed the years I have served and I believe I have served to the best of my ability.

“And now I’m retired I treasure those days; I left the office thinking about those days… in and out.”

Rima does not have a background in law, “but, I have observed the judges I have served during the history of my career, and that’s how I learnt”.

Talking about her work as a JP, she explains that a Land Court sitting is different. “It has no bench book and civil and criminal is different – because there is a guide.”

“A bench book is required for the Land Court, if there is a bench book in place then there will be a guide for any JP who can sit in the Land Court.”

Rima has always thought who among her colleagues would be willing to take on the position in the Land Court.

Other JPs were not really willing to take it on, “perhaps because there is no bench book for the Land Court. There is a bench book for the civil and criminal court.”

From the new Justices of the Peace recruits, she says only one has shown interest in land court and hopes more will show an interest.

“I believe the land is our heritage. I know from the population of Rarotonga we are the few who are selected to take on this role, no matter what our backgrounds are its an honourable calling to sit on the bench.”

The application of an Occupation Right in Land Court can be challenging and quite entertaining.

Rima explains: “An Occupation is a right to you to occupy this piece of land for a certain term for 60 years, if the landowners have agreed and the majority consent is obtained, then the JP has the right to grant that occupation right.

“But, if the majority is not obtained you cannot grant that, you have to adjourn that to get the required numbers.

“Assuming there are 100 landowners on that land, you would need 51 people to get the majority.”

The Occupation Right is what the Land Court wants to be done in the first instance, before the applicant goes back to the landowners for a lease to get some help from the bank, “because the bank won’t give you a loan under the Occupation Right”.

“Once the landowners agree to your Occupation Right, they should agree to the lease, it’s the same principle,” adds Rima.

“But there is a difference sometimes when you go for a lease. Assuming there are two shares in the land, you must get a quarter of the total share…”

For the succession applications, Rima says that during her time on the bench there have been occasions when names are left.

And when she asks the applicants if there were any other issues, “they pretend they can’t hear me. I ask again ‘any other issue… I’m not asking you to put them in, what I’m trying to do is get the genealogy correct because the Land Court is court of records, it will stay there for the rest of our lives’”.

That is what the Land Court is about, says Rima, adding “you can succeed to yourself and your siblings but I would limit the succession order to allow the door open to the others”.

A majority of the islands in the Cook Islands group have Land Court except the islands of Mitiaro, Mangaia and Pukapuka.

Rima says “they are doing well in the Pa Enua, they don’t actually specifically say, they just say this place is yours, go and do something with it … that’s the difference and that’s the beauty.”

“For us in Rarotonga, we are different, we want to know the specifics.

“Aitutaki is very generous, when you ask for a piece of land they give it, and sometimes if you can’t attend the court hearing, if there are people in court who knows of your family they will stand up for you… that’s the beauty of Aitutaki.

“Rarotonga is different, you have to be very cautious.”

Her education started at Avarua school, next was Ngatangiia school then onto Tereora College which she completed her high school studies in 1957.

She had wanted to stay at Tereora College to improve her English, the headmaster at the time Mr Roberts agreed, but only provided that she return as a teacher trainee, so she declined, “I wasn’t interested in teaching children,” she laughs.

Rima had admired the girls working in treasury. “I didn’t know how to type then, but I wanted that job,” she said.

Fortunately for her, a summer typing course was starting at Avarua School led by Mrs Best, who was the head of the typing pool for government. “I was lucky to get in and that’s where I learnt to type.”

On December 4, 1958 she became a typist at the government typing pool that catered for all the government offices and at times the women would have to fill in for the typists for the departments such as health, public works, the newspaper and justice.

While working at justice she “fell in love with the job of working with land” and was offered a permanent job which she happily accepted.

On August 23, 1965, Rima became a clerk in the Land Court Division of the Justice Department, and three years later in August1968, on the recommendation of the Chief Justice, she was appointed as a Deputy Registrar of the Meeting Land Court.

In 1974, she became the acting Registrar and the following year she took on the role of the Registrar of the Meeting Land Court of the Cook Islands.

At the time the Native Land Court was separate from the High court.

She was registered by Judge Morgan to become the registrar of the Native Land Court which she only held for a year, because in 1981 the two courts being the Native Land Court and the High Court were amalgamated into one, to become the High Court of the Cook Islands.

The High Court of the Cook Islands deals with criminal and civil cases, as well as land cases under customary law. Minor crimes are heard in the High Court by Justices of the Peace.

Her position then became defunct and she was duly appointed the Acting Deputy Registrar of the High Court of the Cook Islands.

In June 1982, Rima became the Acting Deputy Registrar of the Births, Deaths and Marriages, and also took on duties of a marriage officer; later in the year she took on the role of receiver of the Public Moneys Act.

Rima, who was also active and dedicated to the Cook Islands Christian Church, in 1984 became the treasurer for the CICC Women’s fellowship and held the role for 17 years.

In May 2001, she was sworn in as Justice of Peace for the Cook Islands by the then Queen’s Representative Sir Fredrick Goodwin in the Parliament of the Cook Islands.

When the Justice of the Peace Act came into force in 2017, noting that all JP’s who turned 72 years of age had to retire, she gave in her notice to the Chief Justice, however, a few days later she was asked by the CJ to extend her contract for another two years which she accepted.

After another two year extension, Rima officially retired on September 1, 2021.