Joe Williams was born in Wairoa and grew up in Hastings. He was educated at Hastings Central School, Hastings Intermediate and Lindisfarne College. He studied law at Victoria University and graduated with an LLB in 1986. In 1988 he graduated with LLM (Hons) from the University of British Columbia, Vancouver. Williams was admitted as a Barrister and Solicitor of the High Court of New Zealand in 1988 and in 1994 was admitted as a Barrister and Solicitor of the High Court of the Cook Islands. In 1989 he was awarded a New Zealand Law Society - Litigation Skills Programme Diploma. From 1985-1986 Williams was a Junior Lecturer in the Law Faculty at Victoria University; he taught legal system, contitutional law and Māori land law. From 1988 to March 1994 he worked for Kensington Swan in Auckland and became a partner in the practice in 1992. In 1994 he became a founding partner of Walters Williams & Co until 1999 when he was sworn in as Chief Judge of the Māori Land Court. At this time Williams became acting chairperson of the Waitangi Tribunal and in 2004 was appointed chairperson of the Tribunal. Visiting academic positions held by Williams include: visiting professor at the William D Richardson Law School at the University of Hawaii, Kaiawhina, Te Wananga o Raukawa, and Fellow, Faculty of Law, Victoria University. In 2000 he was awarded the Te Kawa a Maui Millenium Prize from Victoria University. He writes non-fiction publications and papers. His personal kaupapa is "to utilise the law to the maximum to gain protection and recognition of Māori rights".
- Puna Wairere Essays by Māori. Wellington, N.Z.: New Zealand Planning Council/Te Kaunihera Whakakaupapa mo Aotearoa, 1990. 14-18.
- Correspondence from Judge Williams on 12 Mar. 1998 and 18 Nov. 2004.
Waitangi Tribunal Website http://www.waitangi-tribunal.govt.nz
- Te Ao Mårama: Regaining Aotearoa: Måori Writers Speak Out. Comp. and ed. Witi Ihimaera. Contributing ed. Haare Williams, Irihapeti Ramsden and D. S. Long. Vol. 2: He Whakaatanga O Te Ao: The Reality. Auckland, N.Z.: Reed, 1993. 79.
- The 2000 Papers: PSSM [Public Service Senior Management]Conference.
- Published on the PSSM website <http://pssm.ssc.govt.nz/2000/papers/jwilliams.asp> 24 June 2010.
- The Māori Land Court – A Separate Legal System? Occasional Paper No 4. [Wellington, N.Z.]: N.Z. Centre for Public Law, Victoria U of Wellington, July 2001.
- This lecture was presented to the Institute of Public Law in Wellinton in July 2001 and was published on the New Zealand Centre for Public Law website.
- "Chapman Is Wrong." New Zealand Law Journal Oct. (1991): 373-375.
- A reply to Guy Chapman’s article "The Treaty of Waitangi - Fertile Ground For Judicial (And Academic) Myth-Making", published in the New Zealand Law Journal 228 (1991).
- "Not Ceded but Redistributed." Sovereignty & Indigenous Rights: The Treaty of Waitangi in International Contexts. Ed. William Renwick. Wellington, N.Z.: Victoria UP, 1991. 190-197.
- A detailed discussion on legal issues concerning sovereignty and the Treaty of Waitangi with particular focus on Paul McHugh’s question concerning whether the Treaty of Waitangi acts as a fetter upon the sovereignty of the Crown. This paper was delivered at the 1990 Stout Conference.
- "Back To The Future: Māori Survival In The 1990s." Puna Wairere: Essays by Māori. Wellington, N.Z.: New Zealand Planning Council/Te Kaunihera Whakakaupapa mo Aotearoa, 1990. 14-18. An extract of this article is rpt in Te Ao Mārama: Regaining Aotearoa: Māori Writers Speak Out. Comp. and ed. Witi Ihimaera. Contributing ed. Haare Williams, Irihapeti Ramsden and D. S. Long. Vol. 2: He Whakaatanga O Te Ao: The Reality. Auckland, N.Z.: Reed, 1993. 78-83.
- Drawing parallels with American colonial history Williams examines the shift of emphasis in the the Crown’s perception of the Māori from 1840 to the 1990s. Williams notes that whereas in 1840 the Māori signatories were termed ‘the Confederation of the United Tribes of New Zealand and the Separate and Independent Chiefs’, by the 1870s Chief Justice Prendergast was referring to Māori as ‘primitive barbarians’ and blatantly undermining their Treaty rights because of this. Currently the imagery is one of ‘Treaty partnership’ and with ‘Tino Rangātiratanga secured to the Māori in 1840 rendered [now] as Iwi ‘self management’." In the concluding section of this paper, Williams discusses the reasons why Māori signed the Treaty when in 1840 their title to land, forests and fisheries was already secure.
- "Māori in New Zealand Law at the End of the Cooke Era – where have we got to?" The Struggle for Simplicity – Essays for Lord Cooke of Thorndon. ?: Legal Research Foundation, 1997.
- "Quality Relations – the Key to Māori Survival." Living Relationships Kokiri Ngatahi: The Treaty of Waitangi in the New Millenium. Ken S. Coates and P. G. McHugh. Wellington, N.Z.: Victoria UP, 1998.
- "Judge’s Corner." Te Pouwhenua Nov. 2001: 4-5.
- A summary of his paper entitled: "Māori Land Court – a separate legal system?"