Switching from defending in Auckland to prosecuting in a provincial town is part of Toaiva “Iva” Hitila’s plan to eventually put her legal skills to work in her native Samoa.
Iva says it was “a leap of faith” when she applied for a position as a non-sworn police prosecutor in Timaru. “I did not actually know where Timaru was, so I was going in blind.
“I came to Christchurch for an interview and when I managed to get the position I thought I should look up and find out where Timaru is.”
- Toaiva (Iva) Hitila
- Apia, Samoa and raised in New Zealand.
- Entry to law
- Graduated BA, BCom and LLB from Auckland University in 2016. Admitted in 2017.
- New Zealand Police, Timaru.
- Speciality area
Iva took up her new role as the first non-sworn police prosecutor in Timaru six months ago and is enjoying the job and the South Canterbury town. “All my family and friends come down to visit, and they love it here.”
Raised in New Zealand from 1987 and living in Auckland most of her life, Iva did all her studying in the city, graduating with a BA, BCom and LLB and is now half way through a Masters degree from Auckland University. “Growing up I was educated here and did a couple of years back home.”
“I originally started tertiary education doing a BA in political studies, contemplating it as a post grad degree or something else. Then I decided to look at law school. And did a commerce degree at same time.
“I have always looked to returning home to Samoa. I considered what I could give to the community and be of value to my people. I have got very close connections back home.
“When I went to law school I was probably one of the first few in my extended family to have gone to tertiary education so it was quite foreign to me. I had no idea what I was doing going into university.
“I have always wanted to go back home and serve my people. My parents live in a different way. I thought I could perhaps help in this way, so I looked into law school and just continued from there.
“At the time I was going through law school there was a very small percentage of ethnic minorities. We would get no more than 30 a year, even less, of law students continuing to Stage 2.
“Only about 300 get through and continue on, so there is a very small percentage of Pacific Islanders who will continue with their law studies.”
Coming out of law school Iva worked in Auckland for barrister Charl Hirschfeld, at Ranfurly Chambers. “He took me under his wing for about a year and a bit. I did a few minor criminal appearances. He taught me about the Treaty of Waitangi and I managed to get a bit of experience in Tribunal matters.”
Iva’s Dad, the Rev Talosaga, and her Mum Neta, have served in the ministry of the Congregational Christian Church of Samoa for 20 years, on the island of Savai’i.
“They look after a very small village.”
Her older brother Nettal, formerly a New Zealand policeman, is a police officer in Alice Springs, Northern Territory, her sister Lina died when Iva was in her third year at university and she has younger brothers, Fonofili and Latreia.
“Latreia is Greek. The Greek connection comes from when my Dad was going through Bible studies and he came first in Greek - a requirement. My Mum was carrying my younger brother at the time, so that’s how he was named.
“My brother Nettal encouraged me to look into police prosecution work. I always heard stories from the police perspective and having the criminal background experience I had with Charl Hirschfeld I thought I would try it and see what I can gain from it.
“At the end of the day the aim is to go back home.
“In Auckland I was part of a Hawaiian dance group, but have not found anything in Timaru. I played rugby and did indoor netball but injuries stopped me from that. I grew up a competitive athlete and represented Samoa Under-15 in netball.
“I have travelled to Hawaii and Australia, and go home every year to visit my parents and help out with the ministry.
“I think it’s mandatory that all Samoan girls have to be part of the church choir. I grew up playing the piano and a bit of the violin. Tchaikovsky would be up there. I like church music and gospel and country music as well.
“I did a lot of reading during law school, and have read a lot of Stephen King and John Grisham.
“I am not a television person. I have never watched television and do not even have one. I read the news online. As long as I have access to music then I’m fine.
“I had two pets in Auckland, Sadie, a Siberian husky, and Chyna-lee, a stray Australian sheepdog. My brother had come home with her one day through a friend. She was going to be put down so he brought her over and we have been looking after her for the past three years.
“In Auckland I had a Toyota Vitz, but in Timaru I have a BMW.
“I would really like to have dinner with Nelson Mandela and Jacinda Ardern. There would be all Island food - seafood, chop suey and taro – even though I don’t eat taro – and fresh fruit. With a Tongan drink called ‘Otai - a fruit drink made from pineapple, watermelon and mango.”
International law goal
“When I decided to study law I didn’t think I would pursue a criminal law career. The intention was to go back home and apply my legal knowledge to international law.
“But I have learned a lot from working with Charl Hirschfeld and the knowledge I have been able to acquire from him.
“When I return to Samoa initially I would probably have to start off in the criminal court, given that is the skill set I have. I would like to go back to the defence.”
In a recent interview with the Timaru Herald Iva described her current role as “taking a detour at the moment".
“My goal has always been to work within the Pacific region and have some sort of say in the international development of Samoa.
“I don’t know if that relates to what I am learning here but the intention was always to go back home and work within the regional forums for Samoa. There is influence from China, and I don’t know how I feel about that.
“I always wanted to look into medicine as an alternative career and become a doctor. Mum is a qualified nurse. If I had the opportunity maybe I would consider medicine.
“I love Timaru, I love the small town lifestyle. I’ve always been a small town girl even though I’ve lived in Auckland most of my life.
“When I go home it is a small, relaxed environment. I think that’s how I have been able to adapt so easily to Timaru. I try to go home and visit my brothers in Auckland, they have kids, and I try to visit when I can.”
Over a long career in journalism Jock Anderson has spent many hours in courtrooms and talking to members of the legal profession. He can be contacted at email@example.com