10 Jun 2015

Māoridom mourns Sir Peter Williams

8:08 pm on 10 June 2015

Māoridom is mourning the death of respected high-profile lawyer Sir Peter Williams.

Peter Williams QC

Sir Peter Williams QC died yesterday in Auckland, aged 80. Photo: Sara Orme Photography

Sir Peter, who died yesterday in Auckland, aged 80, was an advocate for Māori and spent his career defending people who had fallen foul of society's rules.

He had pursued the rights of Māori in the justice system, including acting on behalf of people in Tuhoe territory following the 2007 Urewera police raids.

Former minister of Māori Affairs Dover Samuels, who was a close friend of the lawyer, said Sir Peter stood for the freedom and principles that New Zealanders cherished.

Dover Samuels

Dover Samuels Photo: Parliament

Mr Samuels said he met Mr Williams in the 1960s and they developed a friendship that spanned the decades.

"He and his wife, from Ngāti Hine, came to my 75th birthday in the Bay of Islands in Kerikeri, and he was the only one that traversed the floods at that time in the Far North and he was determined to come and share this special time with my whanau with us," he said.

"I want to acknowledge the shock that has rippled through the world of Māoridom because he is one that has advocated on behalf of the vulnerable, on behalf of the rawakore [poor], those who've been disenfranchised...

"Those who didn't have the money and those who went to a lawyer and the first thing the lawyer asks is, 'Well, what's in your wallet? How much can you afford to pay?'

All Sir Peter asked, he said, was whether a potential client was telling him the truth.

"'Tell me the truth', Peter Williams said, 'and I'll defend you. Tell me a lot of bull**** - you can bugger off.' I heard those words many times in terms of his conversations with his clients."

Mr Samuels said the legal profession should honour his friend not as a Queen's Counsel or a law colleague but as a person.

"A person, a spirit, really, who was truly New Zealand and truly advocated for justice on behalf of all New Zealanders and in the international forum," he said.

"I remember when he stood side by side with the honourable Matiu Rata in his opposition to the nuclear testing that was being conducted at Mururoa, and he sailed and showed his opposition to the testing by the French in Polynesia."

Heeni Phillips and Peter Williams at home.

Sir Peter Williams - pictured at home with partner Heeni Phillips Photo: Sara Orme Photography

Mr Samuels said he was sad it took so long for the law fraternity "club" and the people of New Zealand, as represented by the Governor-General and the government, to recognise Sir Peter for his achievements.

"It's quite sad for me to think that, as a personal friend of his, that it took so long... He stood for the freedom and principles that New Zealanders cherish, but it wasn't until the end of his journey, the end of his hīkoi, that the people of New Zealand got the opportunity to recognise his wairua and his contribution to our country."

'You were one of many that carried the kaupapa'

Mr Samuels also expressed his feelings in te reo Māori at the loss of Sir Peter:

"I acknowledge him, we will miss you, you are a big tōtara tree in the forest of Tāne and of New Zealand," he said (translated).

"You're sadly fallen. As a mouthpiece for the Māori world, you were one of its real stalwarts.

"You were one of many that carried the kaupapa, and the tears are falling because we are losing you.

"It comes as a sudden shock in the Māori world because you are one of those people who is an expert at looking after the whānau [Māoridom].

"It was you who pursued the rights of Māori, so farewell. Leave it for us, the living, to look after those others that have been left behind, and because you carried that burden and sickness we farewell you as you return back to the Polynesian homeland of Hawaiki and we will not forget you."

The ceremony took place at his personal residence.

Friends and family gather for Sir Peter's investiture ceremony in April 2015. Photo: RNZ / Carol Hirschfield

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