Born and raised in Apia, Samoa, Wilber Tupua moved to New Zealand in 2010 to attend the University of Auckland law school.
With conjoint degree in Political Science he was was admitted to the bar in March 2019 and began practising in criminal law with the Office of the Public Defender in Manukau.
“I grew up in a single-parent household with three younger brothers. We lived in state-housing and survived on a solo-parent benefit. However, the challenges we faced never diminished my ambition and determination to succeed at every opportunity.
“My mother taught me that we live in spaces that were not built for our people, therefore I had to work twice as hard and be a fierce leader. That advice has always informed my work ethic.
“I knew at an early age I wanted to be a lawyer. In fact, one of my primary school teachers made an uncomplimentary remark that I questioned and argued every little thing, and from that stage I realised I wanted to be a lawyer. Of course, at that time I understood what lawyers do due to popular culture (shows like Boston Legal, The Wire, Legally Blonde, etc).
“Going through law school I realised that pursuing a career in criminal law was one way to help people, especially those vulnerable in the community, and that was important to me. Naturally, working on that front was the starting point. I felt that I was in a position where I have the ability not just to interpret the law, but to question it, shape it and make real change to the lives of people that I represent. I am reminded most of the time by the following quote by Toni Morrison: “if you are free, free someone else”.
“Outside of work, I find that most of my time I am hanging with mates. I’m also a huge film and tv show fan, which takes more of my time than it probably should.”
What do you enjoy most about working in the Justice sector?
“It might sound like a cliché at this point, but the best part of the justice sector are the people I represent in court.
“I enjoy listening to clients sharing their stories, and then being able to communicate that story to the Court with aid of the law in pursuit of a resolution. Often at times, I hear some of the most tragic stories and all they need is someone understanding with a can-do attitude.
“It’s also nice to see the healthy partnership between the defence bar and prosecutors. I think there is a misconception that there is a divide between two parties. However, the mobility of justice really depends on both sides cooperating, and it’s important to maintain that functional relationship.”
After finishing your studies, did you find the job matched the expectations you had while in Uni?
“I’ve always imagined myself appearing in court. PDS provided a good training ground for criminal litigation experience. I think I’ve done just over a hundred court appearances since I was admitted to the bar earlier this year. I have a few trials coming up so I’m really excited for that.”
Is there anything you wish you had been taught in law school that wasn't covered?
“To be frank, I wish law school prepared me for time recording. It’s not the most favourable part of the profession. I also wish there was more emphasis on practical learning (mooting, drafting legal submissions etc).”
Are there any issues currently facing lawyers and/or the legal system as a whole that you'd like to highlight?
“Most legal systems have imperfections. I’d like to see in our criminal legal system a collective emphasis on a rehabilitative approach rather than punitive.
“In terms of issues currently facing young lawyers, mental health is a persisting issue that affect lawyers due to the stressful nature of the profession. It’s good to see that the focus is shifting to that front.”
Can you tell me about anyone who inspires you?
“I’m inspired by the work of people like Justice Joe Williams, Judge Malosi, Judge Moala, Tiana Epati and others who are all trailblazers for Māori and Pasifika people in the law. They have used the law as a tool to empower our communities.”
Law is stressful. What activities do you do after work to decompress after a long day?
Wilber recently had his first criminal trial, where the court delivered a not guilty verdict.
“This was my introduction to a very stressful case. I like to talk about my day whether it was stressful or successful.
“Sometimes I ring up my friends and I head over to their flat to hang and talk about the day. When they are sick of seeing me, I head home and put on a tv show. I try not to take work home with me, or even think about it when I’m out of the office.”