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Justice Lowell Goddard: A Passion For Humanity

By Galia BarHava-Monteith

Professionelle members were invited to attend two special events being run by The University of Auckland to celebrate two Distinguished Alumna award winners for 2008.

The two women awarded this honour were Lynette Stewart and The Hon Justice Lowell Goddard. I had the great fortune to hear Justice Goddard’s speech and to spend an hour interviewing her the following day.

Some Background

Justice Lowell Goddard is a highly respected member of the New Zealand judiciary. Not only has she has been at the forefront of criminal law and procedure in this country for a number of years, she is also the first woman of Maori descent to have been appointed to the New Zealand High Court bench. Justice Goddard is now the first New Zealand woman to hold the position of Chair of the Independent Police Conduct Authority (formerly known as the Police Complaints Authority).

Obviously, this is a woman who’s achieved greatly. She graduated from law school in 1974, and very early on practised on her own as a barrister. In 1988, she and Sian Elias (now a Dame, and New Zealand’s Chief Justice) were the first two women to be appointed Queen’s Counsel in this country. In 1992, Justice Goddard was appointed deputy Solicitor General and effectively acted as the head of the crown prosecution, while taking a hands-on approach and appearing herself in many cases.

If I were to summarise in three words the key impressions that Justice Goddard made on me they would be: passion, integrity and humility.

A Passion for Humanity

Listening to Justice Goddard’s passionate speech, and watching her warm and inclusive demeanour, I couldn’t but help wonder how she’d managed to deal with the underbelly of society for so many years while remaining so passionate and caring. So I asked her, how had she done it?

Her answer was that she’s passionate about the law. She sees the law as the fundamental underpinning of a civil society. In her career she has seen the full spectrum of society, and has witnessed the worst things that can happen. She acknowledges that it is very stressful but she always comes back to the fact that it is the law that underpins civilised behaviour and provides us with a framework to keep the essential principles alive.

Indeed, she says that passion – for whatever endeavour you hold dear – is something you should never lose.

“You will only really excel if you have passion, but passion has to be tempered by rationality and objectivity and refined by one’s life’s learning. It needs to be honed.”

Unreasoned passion, says Justice Goddard, is unhelpful and aimless, but passion that is focused, goal oriented, reasoned and tempered by objective thinking will achieve anything.

Thus, in her passion for law, Justice Goddard learnt to be objective and able to put aside her personal thoughts. Becoming dispassionate does not mean becoming desensitised to suffering – far from it.

Optimism As An Antidote

It turns out that the secret to Justice Goddard’s capacity to practise in the toughest legal environments while remaining humane and positive is her optimistic outlook:

“Whilst you can be disappointed and horrified, one learns to never be surprised by human beings. They can do utterly deplorable things. But humans are amazing creatures and it is their creativity and ability to achieve incredible things that redeems them. This is probably made possible because of our passion and capacity for extreme behaviour, good and bad. Civilising this capacity and getting people to achieve their highest potential through lawful means is my goal.”

Research demonstrates that lawyers tend to be pessimists. Law is one of the only professions where pessimists do well. This makes it all the more inspiring that this woman, who’s had to change into a robe and gown in the male only facilities when no women’s facilities were available in the courts, can take such an upbeat and optimistic view!

Curiosity About the World – The Recipe for Success

At Professionelle, we often ask our interviewee what he or she believes makes a person successful. Justice Goddard believes that successful women (and men) are those who have open, enquiring minds and are motivated to follow through on their curiosity. They want to be extended, in every aspect of their lives, intellectually, socially and professionally.

If you have that, says the Judge, “you are naturally motivated to find out about the world, you are genuinely motivated and you will succeed.”

“I love the fact that in the type of law I practise and have always practised, I engage with a large number and a huge variety of people from all walks of life. It is a very broadening experience and this is something that ought to teach humility, realising that there are whole worlds out there beyond your personal social niche.”

Best Advice

It is an interesting experience asking people about the best advice they’ve ever received. The answers tell you a lot about a person, in two key ways. First, the content of the advice itself and second, the quantity – how many pieces of good advice the person can think of. I’m sure you won’t be surprised to find out that Justice Lowell Goddard received a lot of good advice in her career.

The Judge received her first piece of valuable advice very early in her career. In fact, it was when she was admitted to the bar with twenty other graduates. The presiding judge was Sir Justice Maurice Casey who spoke to the newly-minted lawyers about the importance of integrity in the practice of law. His words stayed with the Judge who continues to advocate the importance of integrity in the practice of law nowadays when she herself presides over the bar admissions of law graduates.

Becoming self-aware is another one.

“It is incredibly important to be brutally honest with yourself even though it can be very difficult. Realising that you can’t do things for other people unless you are well acquainted with yourself.”

It is this self-awareness that has helped the Judge find ways to relate to the full spectrum of humanity she’s come across.

“There have been very few people throughout my career that I have not been able to relate to in any way. These were the paedophiles and the psychopaths. Usually I could relate in a professional way to anyone, no matter what they’d done.”

Throughout the interview I came to realise that it is this self-awareness and humility that are key to understanding the role of judges, who are tasked with adjudicating without being judgmental. As Justice Goddard puts it, “It’s not about you, you’re not there to be judgmental, it’s about the people who are before the Court, the weight of the evidence and where justice lies in the end.”

Doing the right thing, what you believe to be right, with integrity and humility is how I’d describe Justice Lowell Goddard. And she uses others’ words, too, in this case those of the Reverend Manu Augustus Bennett, Bishop of Aotearoa, who told her many years ago,

“You do what you think is right, no matter what others think. You are not here to be popular.”

On Family, Work-Life Balance and “Making it all Work”

The Judge has three step children and one biological grown-up daughter who is also a solicitor. I asked her how she had done it, being a mum and accomplishing so much professionally. Her answer was that she had a very hands-on mother who helped a lot with raising her daughter. But of course, as we all know, women are very good at juggling it all!

Justice Goddard is emphatic that family has to come first. She is very supportive of women taking time out to be with their families and structuring their careers so that they can do so on a continuing basis. She is painfully aware that her generation of women had a sense of making it ‘just like the men’.

“We were awfully driven. I think women now have a much more balanced and healthy view about life, about balancing family, career, social and physical health.”

The Judge realises that many professional women still feel anxious about taking time out to ‘just’ be mums.

“I think that women shouldn’t feel anxious, but make the choices that reflect what’s really in their heart. If it’s having children and a family, they shouldn’t feel guilty and feel like they ought to pursue their professional goals.”

Family and children are the most important thing, says the Judge. When women who she works with take maternity leave and say, ‘I’ll take the minimum’, Justice Goddard always tells them to wait until they have the baby because “until you have the baby you just don’t know. You don’t know if the baby will be healthy and you don’t know how you will feel yourself.” She advocates that women who are about to have children should not overcommit themselves.

Justice Goddard thinks that motherhood is as good as an MBA. The multi-tasking, budgeting, organising, and accomplishing projects like the kitchen renovations, are all excellent training for management. “When I see my daughter and her three young children, how she manages to work part time, to have a wonderfully active social life and romantic marriage and she can do it! She just keeps going.”

It is unsurprising that the Judge regards her own daughter to be her best achievement by far. She doesn’t think she had a lot to do with it. “I don’t deserve the credit, it’s all her.”

On Barriers

In her Distinguished Alumna speech, the Judge did not linger on the barriers she faced. She is not the lingering type. Her reply to my question on this topic was matter-of-fact:

“I’ve personally experienced barriers and I still do.”

At times, she finds that it’s her contemporaries and even younger men who are the worst, whereas many older men have been supportive of her throughout her career. She says some discrimination is due to the traditional attitude of ‘another bloody woman spoiling the fun’ and some due to men feeling threatened by powerful and smart women.

Men and women compete differently, she says. Men are more overtly aggressive in the market place, whereas women tend to rely on cleverness. Women have to make a stand about being included and other women will support them. She doesn’t believe you need to compromise your feminine side to take a firm stand, “You just have to make sure you’ve got a very good case and then just go for it!”

Exclusionary behaviour, says the Judge, will survive as long as the incumbents can get away with it. Joining clubs is important if it’s where things are happening. Women have started to create their own networks and that’s very powerful, but it’s still important to make a stand.

“Do it by being clever, by asking the un-answerable question.”

And she closes our interview by telling me the story about the Wellington Club, whose members fiercely resisted admitting women, a state of affairs that continued till 1992. Sir Robin Cooke, Baron Cooke of Thorndon finally achieved the seemingly impossible in the Annual General Meeting that year. He simply asked if anyone could provide him with an intelligent and rational argument as to why women should be excluded. Funnily enough, no one could.

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