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PNG’s first woman judge, Catherine Davani, dies aged 56

Justice Catherine DavaniKEITH JACKSON

THE DEATH of Supreme Court justice Catherine Anne Davani CSM in a Brisbane hospital on Friday at the age of 56 has brought to a close the distinguished career of Papua New Guinea’s first woman judge.

“Girls all around the nation can look to the example she set and aspire to break through barriers and be everything they want to be in their careers,” observed prime minister Peter O’Neill.

Justice Davani was later joined by three more female judges of the Supreme Court, Justices Jacinta Murray, Leka Nablu and Hitelai Polume-Kiele.

She was diagnosed with breast cancer more than a year ago but stoically continued her duties for as long as she was able.

At the time of her death, Justice Davani was a sitting judge in the civil court track at Waigani.

She passed away peacefully in the presence of husband John and her family who had flown to Brisbane to be with her.

Justice Davani, from Central Province, graduated from the Legal Training Institute in November 1984 and practiced law until her appointment as a judge of PNG’s National and Supreme Court in March 2001.



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Patricia Kassman

A great loss to PNG, sincere condolence to her
Her family

Arthur Williams

Teresa Doherty has the distinction of being the first woman judge in the South Pacific.

For some months in 1994-1995 I was relief manager at the Malagan Lodge on the beach in Kavieng. Judge Doherty would regularly stay with us during National Court cases.

She always requested room 28, which was 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 her to find someone not guilty. The night before the case was to be heard a sorcerer circled the courthouse dropping magic powder around it.

She left PNG 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 ‘Hon. Teresa Doherty – The Difference Women Judges Make.’ In that she mentions her time in PNG.

At the Malagan Lodge I found her a lovely undemanding guest who had wry sense of humour too.

Like many parts of PNG the town water supply can be intermittent. One early morning as breakfast began to be served I answered an internal phone call from her, “Arthur, 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 looking very 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 meekly replied.

“Oh it’s not your fault but,” and continued in a lovely Irish brogue, “Heaven help anyone who comes before me first this morning!”

Garry Roche

My brief memory of Justice Catherine Davani is that she was a very pleasant person to talk to. She was not pompous or putting on airs in any way.

There was at least one expatriate female justice before Justice Davani.

Teresa Doherty, was Judge of the Supreme and National Courts, Papua New Guinea (1988 – 1997).

Sakales Tange

Every year, we are losing the elites and brains of this country. One thing contributing to this is lifestyle diseases.

Lifestyle diseases are triggered by the food we eat in Port Moresby. A lot of our elites live in Port Moresby and as a result, people are regularly eating junk from the store.

The government has to speed up the Agiru Highway in order for the fresh garden food from the Highlands to be transported and supplied to our Port Moresby residents. This will at least save some lives.

I would like to convey my sincere and heartfelt condolences to the friends, families and relatives of the late Catherine Davani.

Her stories of great achievement in life as someone representing PNG in soccer abroad and the first woman judge in our country are a testimony for our young aspiring ladies in our country. May her soul rest in peace.

Daniel Kumbon

This dreaded disease has claimed one of our top lawyers and the first female judge of this young country.

Her death brings to the fore why it is important to have the county's only cancer treatment facility in Lae to be 100% operational. The government must open treatment centers, one each in all four regions of the country.

PNG can't afford to lose more of its educated elites and ordinary citizens. Treatment must be available to all citizens.

My condolences to the family of the late judge, a great role model for all PNG women. May her sole rest in eternal peace.

Francis Nii

This is a sad news. Justice Davani was a role model, especially for our women folk, that nothing was impossible if you had the vision and worked hard for it - be it a private sector, legal or public service job.

My condolence to her family and may she rest in peace.

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