Poet, speak
More than a century on, the great game revisited

Hon Teresa Doherty CBE - first woman judge in the South Pacific

Justice-teresa-dohertyARTHUR WILLIAMS

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!”


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James Stephenson

Known professionally as the Rt Hon Judge Teresa Doherty CBE and personally as Mrs Tracey Benton (wife of the Hon Professor Ian Benton) she is known to me simply as Mrs B.

My wife and I regard her as an exceptional human being full of care and compassion, knowledge and strength and with the honours and accolades to prove it.

Why does this remarkable lady not have a Wikipedia page or some other easy route for people (especially women, who have in her a fierce champion of their wellbeing) to have access to her unique wit and wisdom?

Hi James - A Wikipedia entry requires someone to gather the biographical information and put it together. I'm sure the editors would willingly accept a submission about Mrs B - KJ

Elizabeth Hebei

Hello Honourable Tracey, don’t know if you remember me. We both worked in the Morobe Provincial Government. I was Executive Secretary to late snr Pama Anio, late Sir Jerry Nalau and late Utula Samana. You were in the legal team with Toffamo Mionzing. Congratulations 🎉 on your achievements. Kind regards.

Donna Harvey-Hall MBE

Teresa (Tracey) Doherty was a friend and an inspiration to me. She had time for everyone and like the Irish always do, had a special place in her heart for the underdog.

She started her career as a nurse but went back to university and became a lawyer. Becoming a judge at a relatively early age was a wonderful feat for a woman in the 1970's and her court-room decisions were beyond reproach.

She befriended many Papua New Guineans and I am very proud to call her a friend.

Bernard Corden

Dear Arthur,

Just by chance I was revisiting CP Snow's Two Cultures Rede Lecture at Cambridge i 1959 covering the divergence of the arts and sciences at UK universities and came across another fabulous woman from Northern Ireland,Baroness Onora O'Neill:


Her background would make a pretty impressive CV

I am sure Teresa would know of her.

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