New Zealand Law Society - Wearing taonga with pride in court

Wearing taonga with pride in court

Three lawyers tell us about their experience wearing taonga in court. Mana Taumaunu tells us what prompted him to be part of calls for change. Carlos Hamon and Rikki Donnelley talk about their experiences following the Chief Justice’s decision to allow taonga to be worn in place of neckties.  

Earlier this year the Chief Justice released interim guidance on the wearing of culturally significant decorative taonga as part of business attire for counsel appearing in all proceedings in all courts.

The decision marked an important move towards creating a more inclusive environment in the courts to better reflect Aotearoa New Zealand’s bi-cultural nation.

There was an overwhelmingly positive reaction from the legal profession with hundreds of lawyers supporting the wearing of taonga in court. Two lawyers who quickly took the opportunity to wear taonga told LawTalk what it meant to them.

Mana Taumaunu

Barrister and Solicitor Rawhiti Legal, Gisborne

I was sitting at home having breakfast with my whānau and watching the morning news the day that Māori Party co-leader, Rawiri Waititi, had fought and won the right to wear his taonga in Parliament.

Mana Taumaunu

The things he said about his taonga being a tie to his people and his mana motukuhake really resonated with me and got me thinking, we should be able to wear our taonga in Court too.

That morning I ironed my favourite shirt, buffed my shoes and swapped my neck tie for the taonga my wife had gifted me on our wedding day. Although I brought a spare tie with me in case my plan didn’t work, at the time I thought it was pretty straight forward, I just had to ask the Judge.

So I arrived at Court early, had a quick korero with the registrar before the list started and she passed on my request to the presiding Judge, who granted me permission to wear my taonga for the day. But he said if I wanted to continue, I would have to take it up with higher judicial authority.

In the end, I did not need to because I ran into Tiana. She took a photo and asked if she could do a social media post to gauge reaction. As President of the New Zealand Law Society, she went on to take it up for all lawyers and we have now been granted permission to wear taonga in every Court in Aotearoa. I haven’t worn a tie since!!

Carlos Hamon

Associate Lance Lawson Rotorua

In 2012, I was admitted as a Barrister  and Solicitor of the High Court at Rotorua High Court by Justice Woolford.

For many reasons it was a special day for myself and the whānau as many of us can relate. My father’s brother, (Uncle) Ralph Hamon gifted me with a taonga that he had designed and made for this very occasion. He told me the taonga represented myself and my two young boys RiQco and Ridge who would’ve been 4 and 2 years old at that time.

Carlos Hamon

Prior to the ceremony I tucked the taonga underneath my white collar shirt and tie! For obvious reasons.

Fast forward to that day where the Chief Judge provided an update and informed the world that our taonga could be worn in court in place of a necktie, WOW! What a shock! How special!

On Monday 31 May 2021, I was due to appear in a full day hearing. I felt much more relaxed and there was a sense of calmness, strength with wearing the taonga in the Court room. The annoying neck tie stayed in my desk drawer.

During the lunchbreak of that hearing, I inadvertently bumped into the Judge who was presiding over the hearing. I took this opportunity to ask the Judge whether I could capture the moment with a photo after the conclusion of the hearing. She kindly said yes.

Immediately after the hearing, I showed my uncle the photo of the Judge and the taonga via FB & IG (haha) as he resides in Brisbane and I explained how this happened and the reasons. He was very proud!

For my whānau, it is special knowing that I can walk into the family court and have the two boys with me.

Riki Donnelly

Tumuaki | Director PR Law, Invercargill

For some it may not seem like a big thing. But for others, including me, the ability to appear in court and wear taonga in place of a necktie is significant.

Riki Donnelly

I have long worn different pieces given to me by whānau and friends, with my godfather gifting me my first bone carving shortly after birth. In my private life I will often display taonga outside my clothing.

Until this year these have always been worn under my clothing when appearing in court. So it was with a great deal of joy that I watched the steps taken by Mana Taumaunu and others from the Gisborne bar as they pushed for change on this issue (after Rawiri Waititi raised it in Parliament).

Not long after the Chief Justice’s media statement regarding the wearing of taonga in courts was issued, I had a hearing before the Court of Appeal. Not a forum I frequent often. And because of this the occasions are always special. With the timing of the change enabling taonga to be worn in place of neckties, I decided to wear a very special piece for the first time whilst in the Court of Appeal.

My grandmother Harata Te Maro passed away 10 years ago. My father has a large number of siblings and my “Nanny Ma” was the matriarch who held everyone together. She was also a deeply spiritual person, known for her love of whānau and her healing mirimiri.

Before she passed, and before I was a lawyer, she gifted me a manaia carved from bone. I think this taonga was actually gifted to her by another one of my whanaunga who carved it himself. It is one of my most treasured possessions.

The manaia has the head of a bird, the tail of a fish and the body of a man. Covering earth, air and water, it provides protection no matter where I am. My cousin Pearl Beattie talks about how our grandmother would breathe aroha, mauri and karakia into any taonga that she gave to us grandchildren. When I wear my manaia I feel cloaked in some of her life force.

The change was another step in making Māori culture more visible in our courts, and valued as Tiriti partners and tangata whenua. For me this first time wearing my manaia was also about having one of my tipuna with me to draw strength from in a challenging forum (and it wasn’t just me, one of the lawyers for the appellant, Katy Barker, wore pounamu at our hearing).

Ki toku Tipuna Kōkā, he mihi aroha ki a koe. Moe mai ra, moe mai ra, okioki ai.

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