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Chief Justice Pays Tribute To The Late Sir Ivor Richardson

31 DECEMBER, 2014

Sir Ivor Richardson, who died on 29 December, aged 84 years, was a great New Zealander. He had an unparalleled influence on New Zealand law during his long tenure as a judge, law teacher, and adviser.

Sir Ivor was appointed a Judge in 1977 and retired in 2002. He was 25 years in the Court of Appeal, serving as its President for the last six years before his retirement at the age of 72. During Sir Ivor’s service on the Court of Appeal it consolidated its reputation as one of the leading courts in the Common Law world. The undoubted quality of the Court of Appeal established the conditions under which appeals to the Privy Council were replaced by a New Zealand final court in 2003.

Sir Ivor was born and grew up on a farm near Ashburton. He rode his pony to primary school but was not romantic about his early farming years in Depression austerity. Such experiences however meant that as a judge he was not a remote figure and was always conscious that law cannot stray from the needs of real people.

Sir Ivor was an outstanding student of law, first at Canterbury University, where he graduated with an LLB in 1953, and then at the University of Michigan, where he gained a doctorate. On his return to New Zealand with Jane, his American-born wife, Ivor Richardson practised law from 1957 to 1963 with Macalister Brothers in Invercargill, before being recruited to join the Crown Law office in Wellington. After four years with Crown Law, he became Professor of Law at Victoria University of Wellington in 1967. In 1973 Sir Ivor joined Watts and Patterson, where he practised until appointed to the bench in 1977.

In his work as a law professor, Sir Ivor influenced a generation of young lawyers, and did much to establish tax law as a field of university study in New Zealand. His time as professor of law at Victoria established a lifelong association with the University, which was maintained for the rest of his life, culminating in his service as Chancellor. At the time of his death Sir Ivor was still working out of the Law School, keeping in close contact with the currents of law and able to continue his keen interest in nurturing young legal talent.

Sir Ivor served only a few months on the High Court before being appointed to the Court of Appeal. His work as an appellate judge for nearly three decades touched all areas of law and provided leading cases which remain authoritative today. In addition, his collegial approach to judging and his interest in better judicial administration meant that he has had a unique influence upon the operation of the courts. All the Judges appointed to the Supreme Court on its establishment in 2003 had served with Sir Ivor as President of the Court of Appeal and were influenced by his approach to judging. But his influence has not been confined to those who served with him. Sir Ivor’s openness about judicial work, his emphasis on the importance of reasons, his often-expressed conviction that “the courts are the people’s courts”, and his spare and principled judgments have affected the way in which all judges work today. He supported better access in the courts for the news media, including television, believing that the community should be able to see how the courts work. And in his own work as a judge he shunned “flamboyant rhetoric and evangelical fervour”, to express conclusions that were plain, principled, and fit to meet the needs of New Zealand society. Sir Ivor thought it important that a judge should probe and test the economic, social and political questions thrown up by law in a wide frame of reference. For him, an important source of that frame of reference was close attention to the statutes enacted by Parliament. He believed that legislation had to be seen in its social setting and that the common law of New Zealand “should reflect the kind of society we are and meet the needs of our society”.

In his judicial career, Sir Ivor had to deal with the application and bedding in of some ground-breaking social legislation. His decisions on matrimonial property and the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act set the directions for the application in the courts of these important statutes. He had however a modest view of the judicial role and was careful that it should not encroach upon matters that should properly be left to Parliament or the Executive. Outside his judicial work, he made substantial contributions to the development of policy through his chairmanship of a number of inquiries, including into tax treatment and IRD organisation and the Royal commission on Social Policy.

The judiciary is very sad indeed to lose Sir Ivor. Quite apart from his standing and the respect in which he is held as a jurist, he has been a good friend and colleague throughout his life and is held in the highest affection by us all. Our thoughts are very much with Jane, his wife, and his daughters Megan, Helen, and Sarah and their families.


Statement ends

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