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NZDF opens up different world of legal challenges

Army lawyer Captain Jin Cha knows the challenges he faces as a lawyer in uniform will be very different from those faced in a 9 to 5 private legal practice.

20 October, 2021

They even take him back to his Korean roots, having recently returned from a United Nations Command (UNC) exercise there which assessed how multinational forces might treat a situation where hostilities between North and South Korea resumed. 

Captain Cha, 29, was born in Daegu, South Korea, and grew up in Auckland’s Avondale after his family migrated in 2001.  His language skills and cultural familiarity were a great boost to the multinational team working with the UN Command during the exercise.

“The training was broken into two parts, with the security situation in the Korean Peninsula destabilising and the UN Command having to manage the developing crisis and prevent it from devolving into a full armed conflict,” he said.

“In this part, my team’s role was reviewing investigations into potential violations of the Armistice agreement and ensuring the report is legally accurate.”

The exercise then planned for the evacuation of civilians, as well as the involvement of other nations.

“My role was to interpret any caveats that particular nations have placed on their involvement in the situation, assess how they may impact on operations, negotiating caveats with defence attaches and then communicating the caveats to the commander,”

“For the legal team, a vast majority of the matters we encountered had little to no precedence to rely on.  It was an excellent opportunity to work with the exercise controllers and operational planners in ascertaining the problems.  I was able to then draw on the experience of my legal team in crafting creative and practical solutions to these novel and complex issues.

“It was fascinating and rewarding work, and the legal team’s performance was recognised with each of the four lawyers receiving a letter of commendation from the commander.  Of course we also had the additional challenge of adhering to COVID-19 protocols throughout.”

On graduating from the University of Auckland, Captain Cha’s first job was working with the United Nations Assistance to the Khmer Rouge Tribunal, an international criminal court in Cambodia trying senior leaders of the Khmer Rouge.

Now, three years into his New Zealand Army career, he is working towards his Masters of Law under the NZDF’s Voluntary Education Assistance Scheme. 

He knows a career as an Army lawyer will continue to deliver a range of challenges he wouldn’t necessarily get in private practice.

“What impresses me the most about being a lawyer for the NZDF is the calibre of people I get to work with.  From officers, ratings, soldiers and airmen along with members of the civil staff, I’m yet to meet a group of people who are more committed, competent and fun to be around.”