Justice Colin Doherty speaks with Cook Islands News at the Ministry of Justice building in Avarua. PHOTO: AL WILLIAMS/22120201
Justice Colin Doherty has a professional relationship with the Cook Islands which stretches back more than ten years. He balances work here with numerous responsibilities in New Zealand, including chairing the Independent Police Conduct Authority. He plans to hang up his gown and spend more time fishing when he turns 70 early next year . . . but has no plans to give up his gig here. In fact, he’s just been married here.
Colin Doherty is on Rarotonga for a couple of weeks. He is on a roster of
judges who oversee court matters here.
It’s a balancing act as he has a tight schedule with
responsibilities back home in New Zealand. At home in Wellington, as chair of
the Independent Police Conduct Authority (IPCA), he is leading a 12-month long investigation
into the Parliament Protest in February which is due to be completed in March,
The authority is tasked with looking at an estimated
2000 complaints before it makes its findings public.
He turns 70 in March, the age of compulsory retirement
from full-time judging in NZ.
“I will retire to Christchurch and Wanaka, and go
trout fishing,” he says.
However, his retirement plans do not include court in
the Cook Islands, he adds, speaking from the Ministry of Justice building in
“I have loved everything I have done in my life,
including my work, and never really thought of retiring until recently.”
He was appointed to the Cook Islands in 2012 as a
Justice of the High Court.
“Generally, we come for two to three weeks a year.
“I love it, I love the variety of work, I love the
lifestyle, I don’t feel I’m a tourist here, I don’t feel like I’m working.
“One of the things I love about being here is the
dedicated and hard-working staff.
“A lot of the lawyers we have here do a lot of work,
and for not a lot of money.”
In terms of legislation here, he says it is a good
idea for all governments, when and able, to undertake regular and timely
reviews of law.
He lists the Teina Bishop trial here as a highlight of
the past decade.
“The subject matter was something quite rare.”
The former Cook Islands Minister of Marine Resources
was found guilty of corruption as a minister of the Crown in the High Court in
2016 following a police investigation into allegations of suspect dealings
between him and a foreign fishing company.
Doherty grew up in the South Island, Otago, in Taieri Plains, south of Dunedin.
He described it as farming
country, his father operated market gardens then sheep farms, “up in the
Justice Doherty studied law
and politics at Otago University following a year of high schooling in Morris,
a small town, just outside of Chicago.
“A small town, servicing a
farming area, its main employer was a printing company that printed Playboy
magazine,” he laughs.
At Taieri High School he was
made head boy and captain of the 1st XV.
He namechecks some of the
teachers who inspired him.
Justice Doherty was admitted
to the bar in 1977 and joined law firm Cook, Allen and Co Law the same year.
That led to work in civil litigation
and resource management.
He continued as a partner at
the firm until 1997 when he was appointed to the District Court.
“I didn’t aspire to be a
judge but I thought I’d give it a go when the opportunity arose.
“In those days you got
tapped on the shoulder.”
Justice Doherty also spent
time in the Environment Court.
His first taste of court in
the Pacific came in the early 2000s when he was called to a sting on the
Supreme Court in Samoa.
“It was a game changer, it
gave me my first taste of Pacific judicial life.
“It gave me an interest in
the development of the Pacific jurisprudence; each country has its own
The Cook Islands relies
heavily on New Zealand, but still has its own statutes guided by the
constitution, he says.
“Each island state has their
own, similar, but different.”
Justice Doherty has also
worked as an Associate Judge of the High Court of New Zealand, assisting with
the progression of cases.
“I also got involved in
judicial education, mediation and settlement conferences; that took me overseas
to Australia, Samoa, Europe and Canada.”
He says one of the great
benefits for him from travel, has been learning from other jurisdictions.
In 2015 he was appointed a
national executive Judge which involved assisting the Chief District Court
In 2017 came his appointment
by Parliament as chair of the IPCA in Wellington.
“It’s a very important
constitutional role, with a staff of roughly 50, we get about 4000 complaints a
“There’s some really good
work being done by them.”
At the end of the interview Justice
Doherty made an admission: “My partner Jan-Marie Doogue, herself a Justice of
the High Court of New Zealand, and I love Rarotonga so much we were married by
the Registrar on the beach at Titikaveka, yesterday (Thursday).”