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NZ Legal Trailblazers

1840: English solicitor Richard Davies Hanson arrives at Wellington on 3 January, the first qualified European lawyer in New Zealand.

1842: English solicitor William Martin (later Sir William) is sworn in on 10 January as the first Chief Justice.

1897: On 26 March Apirana Turupa Ngata (later Sir Apirana) is the first Māori to be admitted as a barrister and solicitor.

On 10 May Ethel Benjamin becomes the first European woman to be admitted as a barrister and solicitor.

1923: In July Harold Herbert Carr is appointed to the bench of the Native (later Māori) Land Court, the first Māori to be appointed a judicial officer.

1924: Henry Ah Kew is the first person of Chinese ethnicity to obtain an LLB and to be admitted as a barrister and solicitor.

1936: On 28 February Olive Virginia Malienafau Nelson is conferrred with an LLB at the University of Auckland. In April she becomes the first Samoan and Pacific woman to graduate LLB. Later, in August, she is admitted as a barrister and solicitor, the first Samoan and Pacific woman to be admitted.

1950: Lalbhai Patel is the first person of Indian ethnicity to be admitted as a barrister and solicitor.

1970: In June Ken Mason is sworn in, becoming the first Māori to be appointed a Stipendiary Magistrate (and later District Court Judge until his retirement in 1988).

1972: Georgina te Heuheu (later Dame Georgina) is the first Māori woman to be admitted as a barrister and solicitor.

1979: Mary Finau Tuilotolava is admitted as a barrister and solicitor on 9 February, the first Tongan woman to be admitted.

1980: Edward Durie (later Sir Edward) is the first Māori to be appointed Chief Judge of the Māori Land Court.

1981: Avinash Ganesh Deobhakta is sworn in in April as a District Court Judge, the first judge to be appointed of Indian ethnicity.

1987: Margaret Lee is sworn in as a District Court Judge on 29 May, the first judge to be appointed of Chinese ethnicity.

1988: Lowell Goddard (later Dame Lowell) is appointed Queen’s Counsel on 4 March, the first Māori woman and (with Sian Elias) the first New Zealand woman appointed QC.

1995: Lowell Goddard is sworn in as a High Court Judge in December, becoming the first Māori woman appointed to the High Court bench.

1998: Edward Durie is sworn in as a High Court Judge in October, becoming the first Māori man appointed to the High Court bench.

1999: Fershen A LLanes is admitted as a barrister and solicitor on 9 December, the first Filipino woman to be admitted in New Zealand.

Josephine Kim is admitted as a barrister and solicitor on 17 December, the first Korean woman to be admitted in New Zealand.

2000: Caren Wickliffe is the first Māori woman appointed a Judge of the Māori Land Court.

2001: Denise Clark is sworn in as a District Court Judge on Tematekapua Marae in Rotorua on 2 October. She is the first Māori woman appointed as a District Court Judge and it is also the first time a judge has been admitted to the bench in a ceremony held on a marae.

2002: A’e’au Semikueiva Epati is sworn in as a District Court Judge at Manukau District Court on 22 February, the first judge to be appointed of Samoan and Pacific ethnicity.

Ida Malosi is sworn in as a Family Court Judge on 24 September, the first Samoan and Pacific Island woman. In 2013 she becomes the first woman judge to preside in the Supreme Court of Samoa.

2002: Ajit Swaran Singh is sworn in as a District Court Judge on 4 November. He is the first Fiji-born Indian to be appointed to the District Court bench.

2016: On 1 June Mina Wharepouri is sworn in as a District Court Judge and becomes the first Tongan-born Judge.

On 2 September Soana Moala is sworn in as a District Court Judge, becoming the first Tongan woman appointed to the bench.

2018: In February Justice Joseph Victor Williams begins sitting as a permanent Judge of the Court of Appeal, the first Māori man appointed as a permanent member.

While all care has been taken not to miss anyone, it is an area where there has been relatively little research. Please send any additions or comments to geoff.adlam@lawsociety.org.nz.

Last updated on the 1st December 2018