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Retiring Judge given honorary Permanent Residency

Monday 19 June 2023 | Written by Al Williams | Published in Court, Local, National


Retiring Judge given honorary Permanent Residency
Sir Hugh and Lady Joy Williams, second and third from left, receive honorary Cook Islands Permanent Residency at the Prime Minister’s Office on Friday. They are pictured with Prime Minister Mark Brown, Associate Minister of Foreign Affairs and Immigration Tingika Elikana, Secretary of Justice Tamatoa Jonassen and acting Principal Immigration Officer Chere Arthur. Cook Islands Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Immigration/23061850

A long-standing Judge and his wife have been bestowed honorary Cook Islands Permanent Residents.

It was a busy day on Friday for recently retired Chief Justice Sir Hugh and Lady Joy Williams in Rarotonga as the honours got off to an early start with presentations at the Office of the Prime Minister.  

Formalities continued in the afternoon when Sir Hugh and Lady Joy were honoured by those in the legal profession and Ministry of Justice at a special sitting of the High Court in Avarua.

Sir Hugh Williams KNZM, KC retired in December with Patrick Keane CNZM appointed the new Chief Justice of the nation.

Prime Minister Mark Brown, in the presence of Associate Minister of Foreign Affairs and Immigration Tingika Elikana, Secretary of Justice Tamatoa Jonassen and acting Principal Immigration Officer Chere Arthur, conferred the award of Cook Islands Permanent Residency on the couple for recognition of Sir Hugh’s services to the Cook Islands as a Judge.

The PR award was conferred following Cabinet approval in recognition of Sir Hugh’s services to the Cook Islands since being appointed to the High Court bench in 2009 and thereafter the appointment as Chief Justice for the Cook Islands from 2016 to December 2022.

Reflections from both the Prime Minister and Sir Hugh during the morning meeting on cases adjudicated, most recently the electoral petitions of 2022 and the Manihiki runway case of 2011, were shared during the gathering.

The latter was worthy in that it led to significant improvements to the Manihiki runway with further work planned to commence later this year.

Brown also signalled law reform collaboration which Sir Hugh indicating a willingness to contribute.

On Friday afternoon it was the turn of members of the legal profession to say thanks.

Chief Justice Patrick Keane led proceedings as a packed courtroom gathered to listen.

CJ Keane said Sir Hugh had given a fair and courteous hearing to all those before him, his understanding of Cook Islands law had benefited the nation, and that “Team Williams”, made up of Sir Hugh and Lady Joy had great strength.

Sir Hugh had shared his knowledge of the Cooks jurisdiction with CJ Keane in recent months.     

Cook Islands Solicitor General Lauaki Jason Annandale said Crown Law was appreciative of Sir Hugh’s efficiency, meticulous preparation, and that his hearing of electoral cases were some of the most memorable.

Sir Hugh had suggested Cook Islands take a look at its statute book and encouraged a programme of law reform.

Sir Hugh was respectful in court, and put time and effort into working outside office hours, which had a flow-on effect for the community.

Sir Hugh, in addressing those gathered, and a number watching via Zoom from New Zealand, said he had been reluctant to take part in the formalities, but it was a testament to CJ Keane.     

“I’ve never succumbed to a ceremonial sitting; I’ve always been of the view that Judges are privileged to sit in courts.

“We shouldn’t have ceremonial sittings of this sort but I gave in.’

Sir Hugh said all those who have interest in justice can take comfort that the sector is in good heart.

The Cook Islands had significant kudos, a global standing and the impartiality of the judiciary, he said.

“The legal profession here should have more confidence, there are some very fine lawyers here in the Cook Islands.”

Sir Hugh made special mention of Norman George, saying George’s acquittal rate for jury trials would be the envy on many in New Zealand’s legal profession.     

Sir Hugh and Lady Joy first came to this country in 2009 as tourists.

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

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 December, on announcing his retirement, he told Cook Islands News it had been the friendliness of the people here which had left a lasting impression on him.

Chief Justice Patrick Keane, from left, Senior Justice of the Peace Tangi Taoro and Sir Hugh Williams following Sir Hugh’s farewell at the Ministry of Justice building in Rarotonga on Friday. PHOTO: AL WILLIAMS /23061849

Sir Hugh also thanked 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.”

At the time, Sir Hugh said our nation would benefit from an overall look at statutory law.

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

“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 said overall, the judicial process worked satisfactorily.

The retiring Chief Justice told the newspaper the nation had been left in “excellent hands” with the appointment of Justice Patrick Keane.