Tauranga Community Magistrate Robyn Paterson once told a young man appearing in court on cannabis charges to go home and grow something that could feed his family.

"Three months later he walked into this court with a black rubbish bag and a big smile on his face. The bag contained a gigantic tomato plant.''

It meant he avoided a conviction.

"Case dismissed," she tells people who have gathered for her retirement farewell at a special court sitting at Tauranga District Court.


Then there was the up-and-coming sportsman charged with abusive language after he called the police "'pigs".

"I ordered him to go to a pig farm, then visit the police station and write me a couple of paragraphs on the differences he had observed."

"I got a call from Priscilla from the BBC on that one," Paterson says, with huge laughter.

This week marked the end of her 20-year tenure as a Tauranga Community Magistrate, and the country's longest-serving magistrate.

She was one of the first four community magistrates appointed on January 25, 1999, under a government pilot scheme to bring lay people into the courts to help speed up the legal process.

It was supposed to be an 18-month pilot in Tauranga, Whakatane, Hamilton and Huntly District Courts. Instead it continued for nearly a decade. She officially retired on Thursday.

Paterson, the wife of former Western Bay mayor Ross Paterson and a mother of three, wasn't a complete stranger to the workings of the justice system when appointed.

She served as a Justice of the Peace for 12 years before her appointment and was elected president of the Royal Federation of Justices New Zealand in 2005.


Tributes flowed on Thursday and there was plenty of laughter as Judge Louis Bidois described Paterson as the "female version of Winston Peters", adding she was "always immaculately dressed".

Chief District Court Judge Jan-Marie Doogue said being a community magistrate could be highly demanding and challenging, yet Paterson had always given exemplary service.

"Robyn came to us with all the life experience and skills required of the role of a Community Magistrate, including her wise head and sound judgement, and as the years have shown her appointment was the perfect fit," she said.

Tauranga District Court's executive Judge Christopher Harding said Paterson had run her court "consistently and efficiently, politely but firmly".

Paterson was also renowned for her quickness to correct people who used the phrases "yeah or okay ", stood in the dock with their hands in their pocket or chewing gum.

Tauranga Community Magistrate Lesley Jensen said Paterson was an " extraordinary" community magistrate

"Robyn is a great person to have your side whether you are a colleague or a young person appearing before her, and she has the great ability to think outside the square."

A well-executed glare from Paterson from over her glasses could stop a young person from ever returning to court, and many times it did," Jensen said.

"Who knows how many people you have saved from a life of crime?" she said..

Paterson said she was a "tad overwhelmed and very humbled' that Judge Doogue had taken the time to come to acknowledge her years of service as a judicial officer.

Paterson, chosen from 212 candidates in 1999, said the selection process was "truly like being on the TV Reality Show Survivor.

"The life of Community Magistrate can be very serious, however, there have been some very amusing times too. Believe me when I say I have heard it all."

Paterson says during her time on the bench, she has been called many things, including 'Your Majesty' and 'Your Highness', and other labels she could not repeat.

"It has indeed been a privilege and an honour to be part of something that has changed the way justice is served in New Zealand.''