Tagata Pasifika

The Pacific voice on
New Zealand television
since 1987

Tagata Pasifika

The Pacific voice on
New Zealand television
since 1987

University of Canterbury honours top Samoan Judge

Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air
Justice Nelson in front of the UN building in Geneva. Photo: University of Canterbury
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Neueli Mauafu | Reporter

“It is a huge honour not only for me, but for our judiciary and our country”.

These were the words of Justice Vui Clarence Nelson, one of top judge’s in Samoa and the Pacific. 

The 67-year-old Samoan matai (high chief) will receive an Honorary Doctorate – Doctor of Laws from the University of Canterbury (UoC) at a ceremony this Thursday.

Justice Vui grew up in and attended high school in Apia before being awarded a Government scholarship to study in New Zealand at the age of 16. He is also an alumni of UoC, having graduated with a Bachelor of Laws in 1977.

After graduating, he went on to practise law for two decades, and has been a judge for over 20 years, including being appointed Senior Judge of the Supreme Court of Samoa in 2021.

Reflecting back on the move to New Zealand from Samoa as a teenager, Justice Vui vividly remembers it as a “huge challenge” for him.

“There is no denying the journey has been full of incredible highs and the lowest of the lows,” he says. 

“A good example was when the Samoa Judiciary issued, in a short and intense period of time, a significant number of Constitutional decisions in 2021/22 following the last General Election.

“I was immensely proud to be a member of that team but was bitterly disappointed at some of the derogatory untruths being spread about us. But I have learnt that comes with the turf and is part of life as a judge.”

Photo: Supplied

Growing up in Samoa, Justice Vui was shown the virtues of hard work and loyalty by those around him. 

The influence of his two fathers Su’a Fritz Thomsen and Laulusa Frank Nelson who both served for Samoa in their respective government departments was something that he mirrored in his work over the years. 

“They instilled in me the value of public service, a love of country and above all integrity and a sense of justice,” he says.

“The photos hang above my office door and serve as a constant reminder of these things lest I foolishly forget”.

Justice Vui has been an advocate for human rights and judicial reform throughout his career, with a particular concern for the rights of children and young people, and protecting young victims of sexual violence.

He was the first Pacific islander to be elected to the United Nations Committee on the Rights of Child, which he served on for eight years until the start of this year.

Making a return to Christchurch where it all began, the trip is a monumental one for the Judge. Reminiscing on his student days at the University of Canterbury, he remembers the good and the bad times.

“Christchurch holds a special place in my heart and I am humbled and feel very unworthy of the honour being bestowed on me, because much of what I achieved could not have been done without the help of many others who unfortunately always remain unacknowledged,” Nelson added. 

“But I am grateful to receive the Award on their behalf and on behalf of Samoa and its Judiciary. And on behalf of all those who believe that nothing is impossible. Faafoi pea le viiga I le tatou Tama i le lagi.” (All glory goes to God)



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