Samoa’s former Supreme Court Justice attains Prestigious Law Professorial Position in New Zealand

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Waikato University has announced the appointment of former Supreme Court Justice of Samoa, Tologata Tafaoimalo Leilani Tuala-Warren as a Professor in Law.

Professor Tuala-Warren is the first Pacific woman to attain the prestigious law professorial position in New Zealand. She is also the first Samoan to be appointed Professor in Law.

In a press statement Waikato University Assistant Vice-Chancellor Pacific, Dr Keakaokawai (Keaka) Varner Hemi, says the appointment is a landmark moment for New Zealand as a Pacific nation.

Professor Tuala-Warren boasts an impressive career spanning 27 years, encompassing roles in practice, academia, policy, and the judiciary.

Tafaoimalo Tologata served as a Justice of the Supreme Court of Samoa from 2016 to 2023, becoming only the second woman to achieve this distinction.

Tafaoimalo Tologata also holds a special place at the University of Waikato, having been part of the Law faculty and receiving an esteemed Distinguished Alumni Award in 2022.

Professor Tuala-Warren says that she is looking forward to engaging with law students and getting them excited about working in the field of law.

“I am humbled to be the first female of Pacific descent to receive a law professorship in New Zealand. I hope I can inspire other young women growing up in the Pacific Islands to consider the field of law,” she says.

Tafaoimalo graduated with a Bachelor and Master of Laws at the University of Waikato after completing a Bachelor of Economics at the University of Sydney, Australia, choosing to study law to reinforce the link she saw it had with economics.

In 2005 she returned home to Samoa, and the welcome support of family, to work for with her brother in their law firm, Tuala & Tuala. The move home to Samoa triggered an unexpected path for Tafaoimalo.

In 2008, she was appointed the first Executive Director of the Samoa Law Reform Commission.

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Just five years later, Chief Justice Patu Tiavaasue Falefatu Maka Sapolu invited her to become a judge of the District Court, and in doing so she became the second woman in Samoa appointed to the bench.

As a newly appointed judge, Tafaoimalo was asked to establish the Family Court and the Family Violence Court, the only court of its kind in the Pacific outside of New Zealand.

The Family Violence Court is a therapeutic court where the process is holistic and focuses on the whole family, including offenders and victims.

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“I found this work really rewarding, and enjoy working with the families – they want to heal together, and it’s a process that works well in this country,” Tafaoimalo had said at the time.

In 2016 Tafaoimalo left the Family Violence Court to become a Justice of the Supreme Court of Samoa where she dealt with serious offences and constitutional cases. “Because it is not a therapeutic court and the seriousness of the offences we deal with, the role gets quite heavy.”

In dealing with offences of violence against women, Tuala-Warren sent strong messages through her Court sentences to deter the growing number of cases in Samoa. She set the bar high with prison sentences in the double figures for offenders of rape and sexual crimes against women.

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In 2021, Tafaoimalo and her fellow Supreme Court judges were faced with a constitutional crisis during the Samoa election when two rival leaders were in a deadlock over who was the rightful prime minister, with a resolution found through the Supreme Court and through scrutiny of the Constitution.

Tuala-Warren and her colleagues were in the position of strengthening the rule of law, and at the time, she said it was a meaningful moment in her career. “We spent a lot of time reading and writing. It lifted me and I thought, ‘this is why I am here”.

At the time, Professor Tuala-Warren said the experience proved that the rule of law in Samoa is strong and that the judiciary is a protector of the Constitution.

Professor Tuala-Warren’s advice to the next generation of lawyers is, “Ask yourself, ‘what can I do to help our people?’ That’s where the passion will come from, and from there you will do well.”

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