Judge Heemi Taumaunu seeks transformative change in justice system

By Taroi Black

Recently-appointed Chief District Court Judge, Heemi Taumaunu seeking transformative changes in the justice system that ensures fairness and cultural understanding.    

Judge Taumaunu says “Improving the way we deliver equitable treatment” is key.

 “All of us need to recognize people do come from different starting points and that touches on the key area of understanding where people have come from and in a sense, nā wai rātou? Nō hea rātou? Nā te aha rātou?”

The Judge emphasises these are also key learnings which have developed through the implementation of the Rangatahi Courts, the Matariki Court and the other specialist therapeutic courts.

At 52 years of age, he’s regarded as a pioneer of Ngā Kōti Rangatahi o Aotearoa, the Rangatahi Courts. In 2008 Judge Taumaunu developed the first Rangatahi Court in Gisborne, enabling youth to have a better chance in the long run.

“There’s another principle that goes hand in hand with that idea it’s improving the way we deliver equitable treatment for all people who are affected by the business of our court.”

A lot of the transformative change that Judge Taumaunu wants to put in place is based on He Waka Roimata report which investigated the possible delivery of a more effective justice system.

The report states the current system simply doesn’t work, especially for Māori who make up 51% of inmates in prison compared to the general population who only make up 16%.

“The judges need to be well informed, they need to be educated and they need to have a degree of cultural confidence so that they can navigate authentically in all of the various worlds that they have to encounter when they are dealing with people.”

NZ's District Court system is the largest in Australasia with 160 judges in 58 courthouses that deal with approximately 200,000 criminal, family, youth and civil matters. Judge Taumaunu says, "95% of the justice that’s dispensed in this country is dispensed in the District Court."

East Coast hapū Ngāti Konohi will hold a day of celebration this Saturday for Judge Taumaunu.