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Retiring Judge keeps Cooks on the books

Saturday 3 December 2022 | Written by Al Williams | Published in Features, In Depth, Local, National

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Retiring Judge keeps Cooks on the books
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.

Justice 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, 2023.

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 Avarua.

“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.

Justice 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 hills”.

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 is also the chair of the Independent Police Conduct Authority (IPCA) NZ and is leading a 12-month long investigation into the Parliament Protest in February which is due to be completed in March, 2023. Photographer: Dave Lintott/AFP/Getty Images/22120245
Justice Doherty is also the chair of the Independent Police Conduct Authority (IPCA) NZ and is leading a 12-month long investigation into the Parliament Protest in February which is due to be completed in March, 2023. Photographer: Dave Lintott/AFP/Getty Images/22120245

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 precedent.”

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 Judge.

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 year.

“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).”