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New Zealand’s First Pacific Dean of Law: Professor Tafaoimalo Tologata Leilani Tuala-Warren


Professor Tafaoimalo Tologata Leilani Tuala-Warren has been appointed as the Dean of Te Piringa Faculty of Law at the University of Waikato, marking a historic milestone as New Zealand’s first Dean of Law of Pacific descent.


A Humbling Appointment

In response to her appointment, Professor Tuala-Warren expressed her gratitude and commitment to serving Te Piringa, the University, and the wider community. She aims to demonstrate that the study of law is accessible and enriching. “Te Piringa offers a unique learning experience steeped in professionalism, law in context, and biculturalism,” she said. These core principles distinguish Te Piringa from other law schools, ensuring that graduates are well-prepared to apply the law effectively and understand Aotearoa’s cultural and legal context shaped by Tangata Whenua.


Academic and Professional Journey

Professor Tuala-Warren’s association with the University of Waikato dates back to the 1990s, where she completed her Bachelor and Master of Laws and a pre-admission course at the University's Institute of Professional Legal Studies. Her master’s thesis explored the traditional Samoan apology, ifoga, and its potential integration into New Zealand's criminal justice system. In 2022, she was honoured with the University of Waikato Distinguished Alumni Award. She also holds an undergraduate degree in economics from the University of Sydney.


Te Piringa has always been a vibrant, exciting, and diverse place to study law, welcoming international students into its global community while prioritising students from Aotearoa. Professor Tuala-Warren emphasised the strong relationship between the University and the Pasifika community, which has consistently produced high-achieving Pasifika graduates who excel globally, especially in the Pacific region. She is dedicated to strengthening ties with all Pacific nations and the Pacific-descendant population within Aotearoa.


Legal Career in Samoa

Professor Tuala-Warren began her legal career in Samoa 26 years ago, serving as a state solicitor in Samoa’s Office of the Attorney-General from 1998 to 2000. She returned to the University of Waikato to teach until 2005, holding various positions as a tutor, teaching fellow, and law lecturer, teaching dispute resolution, corporate and commercial law, and consumer protection.


In 2005, she returned to Samoa to work as a partner at her brother’s firm, Tuala & Tuala Lawyers. In 2009, she became the Executive Director of the Samoa Law Reform Commission, and in 2013, she was invited to become a District Court judge, becoming the second woman in Samoa appointed to the bench. As a judge, she established the Family Court and the Family Violence Court, the only court of its kind in the Pacific outside New Zealand.


Supreme Court Justice and Return to Academia

In 2016, she was appointed as a Supreme Court Justice of Samoa, where she handled serious offences and constitutional cases until 2023. She holds a temporary judicial warrant as a Supreme Court Justice in Samoa, allowing her to sit on the Samoa Court of Appeal.

Professor Tuala-Warren’s return to Waikato marks her as the first Pacific woman in New Zealand to attain a law professorial position.


Reflecting on her journey, she credits her family, particularly her late father, for their unwavering support. “This achievement is not mine alone; I carry with me the essence of my heritage, my family, friends, villages, church community, and judicial colleagues in Samoa. I carry the aspirations of an entire nation with me, and I hope to make them proud while also serving the people of Aotearoa.”

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