HON Teresa Doherty CBE, now back home in Northern Ireland, has the distinction of being the first woman judge in the South Pacific.
It was just one of a number of firsts for this outstanding woman lawyer during her time in Papua New Guinea from 1978-97: first woman elected as a Councillor of the PNG Law Society; first woman appointed as a Principal Magistrate; and first woman Senior Land Court Magistrate.
For some months in 1994-1995 I was relief manager at the Malagan Lodge on the beach at Kavieng in New Ieland. Justice Doherty would regularly stay with us during National Court cases.
She always requested Room 28, situated at the western end of the two-storey block, so as to be as far away as possible from what could be a noisy bar area.
While in Kavieng she had to hear a case of someone trying to rig a trial using sorcery to get someone found not guilty. The night before the case was to be heard a sorcerer circled the courthouse dropping magic powder around it.
She left PNG in 1997 and eventually became involved in Sierra Leone and was one of several judges appointed to the Special Court for Sierra Leone hearing the terrible human rights abuse case of President Charles Taylor of Liberia.
She has several short videos about her work with International Association of Women Judges on YouTube. I listened to some of them including ‘The Difference Women Judges Make’ in that she mentions her time in PNG. You can see an interview with her here.
At Malagan Lodge I found her a lovely and undemanding guest who had wry sense of humour.
Like in many parts of PNG, the town water supply could be intermittent. Early one morning as breakfast began to be served I answered the internal phone.
“Arthur,” she said, “you may like to know that I am standing here covered in soap suds unable to rinse them off because of no water coming through the shower!”
“Oh, terribly sorry about that Judge. Can only think it is because everyone is having a bath at the same time. I’m sure it’ll start flowing again very shortly.”
I crossed my fingers wondering if perhaps I should send a bucket of water up to her room, just in case we were in for a long loss of the water supply.
“We’ll see,” she replied and ended our talk.
About half hour later she entered the foyer with her hair still wet. “It did come back eventually, Arthur, but I haven’t had time to dry my hair properly. Or have a coffee.”
“Sorry true, Judge,” I replied meekly.
“Oh, it’s not your fault but,” she continued in a lovely Irish brogue, “heaven help anyone who comes before me first this morning!”