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Retiring Chief Justice on his time here, suggestions for law reform

Saturday 10 December 2022 | Written by Al Williams | Published in Court, Features, Local, National


Retiring Chief Justice on his time here, suggestions for law reform
Chief Justice Sir Hugh Williams in court at Avarua during an admission to the bar of the new Cook Islands Solicitor General, Graham Leung in March. It is one of the few times cameras are allowed in court and Sir Hugh took the opportunity to make everyone present feel welcome and comfortable. PHOTO: AL WILLIAMS 22120921

Retiring Chief Justice Sir Hugh Williams KNZM, KC has spoken with Cook Islands News and shares some insight into our judiciary.

The Ministry of Justice has appointed a new head of the Cook Islands judiciary to replace the retiring Chief Justice Sir Hugh Williams Justice Patrick Keane CNZM has been appointed the new chief justice of the country.

Sir Hugh said the new appointment continues the tradition of the Cook Islands’ judiciary being of the highest calibre and unimpeachable integrity.

Speaking to Cook Islands News, he said he first came to this country in 2009 as a tourist.

He was shoulder tapped and then appointed to the High Court here.

“My wife and I have always enjoyed being here.”

Sir Hugh says there is still plenty of work for him to do back home in New Zealand.

However, he will have more time for family and gardening, he says.

In between his decades-long commitment to the Cook Islands, in 2010 Sir Hugh received the Insignia of a Knight Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit for services as a judge.

He was appointed a Queen's Counsel in 1988 and practised as such until his appointment in 1989 as Master of the High Court of New Zealand, a position he held until 1995. 

Sir Hugh was appointed a judge of the High Court in 1995.

As a judge of the High Court of New Zealand, he was seconded for extended periods to the Court of Appeal. 

Sir Hugh became a senior puisne judge of the High Court in April 2008, serving in this capacity until his retirement from the position in September 2009. 

He was a Commercial List Judge from 1996 to 2006 and Chairperson of the Standing Committee on Courthouse Design and the Criminal Practice Committee.

Prior to practising as a barrister in Auckland, he practised as a barrister and solicitor in Palmerston North. 

Sir Hugh was president of the Manawatu District Law Society and was chairperson of the Courts and Tribunals Committee of the New Zealand Law Society from 1986 to 1989. 

He made a substantial contribution to tertiary education through his membership of the Massey University Council and his term as Chancellor of Massey University from 1991 to 1997.

Sir Hugh was also involved in local body politics and served as a Palmerston North city councillor from 1983 to 1989. 

In 2009 he was appointed by the Minister of Justice as president of the Electoral Commission.

In terms of his time in the Cook Islands, it has been the friendliness of the people here which has left a lasting impression on him.

Sir Hugh also thanks the court staff and members of the legal profession here for their willingness to help.

When asked about humorous moments during his time working with the courts here, he said: “Inevitably there are cases that come up that make you grin to yourself behind the scenes; you never let that come to the fore.”

“Some of the most memorable are electoral petitions, challenging and people are accommodating.

“You do the best you can in the circumstances, court staff are always helpful; the Cook Islands has a very strong legal profession.”

Sir Hugh says our nation would benefit from an overall look at statutory law.

“There are areas that would repay reconsideration; the Electoral Act could be looked at to make it more sensitive to South Pacific context.

“The Criminal Procedure Act says if we don’t have laws, we can act on New Zealand laws; a lot of laws here can be difficult in terms of the Cook Islands.

“There is a Law Commission there (Cook Islands) but it hasn’t been able to do anything for many years.

“There isn’t a programme for law reform; I think it would be helpful, it doesn’t need to be radical.”

Sir Hugh says, overall, the judicial process works satisfactorily.

The retiring chief justice says we have been left in “excellent hands” with the appointment of Justice Patrick Keane.