Judge Claire Ryan

2014 Judge Claire Ryan V2

Judge Claire Ryan has not only had a distinguished career, she’s also a woman of faith and service to others.

Claire Ryan was appointed a District Court Judge in 2011. She is also an amateur astronomer, theology teacher, breast cancer survivor, and activist. She has served as director of the World Schools Debating Championships, among many other accomplishments in her colourful and varied career.

Judge Ryan was admitted to the New Zealand Bar in 1985, then moved to Melbourne in 1990, where she was admitted to the Federal Court of Australia and the Supreme Court of ACT in 1990, and the Supreme Court of Victoria in 1993. Her expertise is in the areas of criminal law, family law, and child protection, and during her long and distinguished career, she says that she particularly enjoyed working with clients who were homeless or those with disabilities, mental illness, and alcohol and drug dependencies.

“We had clients who just needed people to go the extra mile for them. In dealing with a wide spectrum of people, I was confronted with humanity – both my clients’ and my own. It helped me to realise the privileges in my own life, and it brought home law as a vocation,” she says. 

“Going the extra mile” describes not only Judge Ryan’s professional practise but her personal ethos as well. In Australia, she obtained a degree in theology, and when she returned to New Zealand in 1995, she went on to teach at the Catholic Institute of Theology at The University of Auckland, with a specialisation in the Old Testament, particularly the prophets – and says that Maori prophets, in particular, fascinate her.

Judge Ryan worked as an educator at the Stardome Observatory and Planetarium in Auckland for many years as a member of the “night riders,” teaching the public about tatai aorangi (Maori astronomy). She is now a self-described “solar eclipse chaser” and tries to travel to different places when she has leave, including Australia, Turkey, the Faroe Islands, and Indonesia with “fellow mad astronomers”. She hopes to travel to Chile next year to observe another eclipse.

In 2000, Judge Ryan was diagnosed with breast cancer and spent six years in treatment. In 2004, she helped found the Breast Cancer Aotearoa Coalition (BCAC), which is run by breast cancer survivors and is an umbrella organisation representing 32 breast cancer-related groups. BCAC provides information, support, and representation for those with breast cancer so they can make informed choices about their treatment and care. Now in good health, Judge Ryan says of her time with BCAC, “I spent time working for others with something that really resonated with me. It was a very positive and transformative time of my life.”

From 2005 until her appointment as District Court Judge in 2011, she led the Youth and Family Court team at Meredith Connell and says the “cutting-edge” way New Zealand Youth Courts deal with young people is something we as a country can be proud of. 

Judge Ryan has also been involved in the World Schools Debating Championships since 1988. “I am honoured to be appointed co-chief adjudicator of the World Schools Debating Championships in Croatia in July 2018,” she says. “In the meantime, collecting Swatch watches is a bad habit!”

About her days at Baradene, she says, “Arriving at Baradene as a 10-year-old in a school of 400 strong-willed young women, I learned that girls could do anything (since at school we did everything!). Being placed in a debating team by a discerning teacher led to a perhaps inevitable journey into the world of law, prodded in no small part by the Sacred Heart goal of ‘a social awareness which impels to action’. ”

Judge Ryan also says her lifelong friendships and faith were nurtured by the Baradene community and respect for the values of the head and heart. “Having a genuine relationship with God, others, and myself was important, as were the linked concepts of self-worth and service to the community,” she says.