20 November 2020
“The first weekend I was in Niue, I assembled my bike and rode around the island. It was hot in January and after passing through Liku a bit over 40 kms into the journey with no idea what was still to come, I must have looked tired and dehydrated. A boy of six or seven came running out to the road and offered me a coconut which was very welcome. He then cut a slice off the outer part to make a spoon for me to eat the soft flesh. Such kindness from a young stranger. No wonder I have been in love with Niue throughout the 42 years since.”
In January 1979 Howard Lawry began a VSA assignment in Niue as legal officer assisting the only other lawyer on the island. This was the start of a long association with the Pacific which has recently culminated in being appointed a High Court Judge in Solomon Islands.
Howard has worked in Papua New Guinea for a private law firm, in Samoa in the Attorney General’s Chambers, in South Auckland’s Polynesian community and in Solomon Islands in various roles including advising Police Prosecutions, as Public Solicitor and now as a High Court Judge.
“Although I did not know it at the time, my VSA assignment shaped the rest of my life. It built self-confidence and self-reliance and developed a love of adventure and sharing the wonderful things of the Pacific with others,” explains Howard.
“Without doubt I have had the most amazing experiences throughout my life all stemming back to my decision to volunteer. My decision to find my own accommodation in a village in Niue was central to enjoying my life there. I was able to take a full part in community life, from working in the bush gardens, fishing, and being in the various sports teams which in turn taught me the importance of building relationships in the Pacific communities. What rich life-long relationships they have been.”
During his VSA assignment Howard worked for the Government of Niue and helped provide the legal resources supporting the work of Government, including Cabinet and the administration of the Public Service.
“As a lawyer I undertook a wide variety of work both for the Government and the private sector,” says Howard. “I drafted legislation, assisted the Courts and Cabinet. I was also part of the Niue Language panel used to interpret legislation and other important documents into Niuean (my role being to discuss the wording of English so the experts could put the words into Niuean accurately).”
Howard’s work in Niue resulted in positive and long-term change.
“When I arrived in Niue there was no representation of defendants in Court. I took a group of six enthusiastic people and trained them in criminal law, Court processes and statutory interpretation establishing a public defender scheme. The scheme continued after I left Niue and in the years that followed I regularly received calls asking for advice. I was delighted to find that the scheme was still operating when I returned to Niue in 2008 and continues now in 2020.
“Those I trained all went on to become prominent in Niue including holding positions of Cabinet Minister, Speaker of the House and Chairman of the Public Service Commission.”
Howard’s VSA assignment was also the beginning of a long association with VSA.
“When I was the Deputy Public Solicitor and later Public Solicitor in Solomon Islands, I worked closely with VSA in Solomon Islands engaging volunteers to work for the Public Solicitor’s Office helping mentor the lawyers in their daily work and to provide continuing legal education for the sector.”
Howard continues to volunteer and support his local community. “I am fortunate to be able to carry out voluntary work using carpentry skills in schools in Guadalcanal, building furniture, repairing school rooms and fundraising for the schools to make sure children have access to an education. As Public Solicitor I was actively involved in an access to justice program, providing legal education and awareness to communities and facilitating the provision of legal advice and representation across the Solomon Islands. I have continued to work closely with volunteers who have worked in the Justice sector in Solomon Islands.”