Sir Edmund Thomas: A tribute to Sir Owen Woodhouse

by NZ Lawyer30 Apr 2014
But on an occasion such as this, and in a tribute to Sir Owen, how profound need be our disappointment that the purity of the principles may have been impinged? Indeed, it need not be at all intense.

In the first place, we should bear in mind that we still have a system which provides universal coverage for personal injury around the clock and one which preserves the no fault principle for the payment of compensation. Whatever erosion the original scheme has endured, it is still infinitely preferable and less costly than the fragmented and capricious system it replaced.

Once seen as a revolutionary experiment, it now represents a demonstrably successful piece of enlightened social legislation. Not only the hundreds who have suffered a loss or a personal injury, often serious, have benefited, but people generally can take heart from fact that they belong to a society that is, at least in this respect, both mature and responsible.

In the second place, and I will close on this note, nothing that has transpired can diminish the brilliance of the Report itself and the profound impact it has had on social, political, legal and economic thinking. Its enactment by a Government subjected to hostile pressures from vested interests has not been replicated anywhere in the common law world. Elsewhere, self-interested pressure groups have proved too strong and too vocal.

The Report recognises that the persistent creed of libertarian individualism is neither equitable, nor realistic, nor sustainable. It provides a benchmark for the realisation of a higher aspiration; that the community is collectively responsible for the cost of the random misfortunes and mishaps that befall good people living and working in an interdependent economy and an increasingly complex society.

To the Friedmanite apostles of creative destruction and the omniscience of the free market, the Woodhouse Report and the resulting scheme must pose a galling and monumental reminder that the human spirit is capable of an ideal that surpasses the constricting realities of self-interest, greed and wealth.

And therein lies the core of my tribute to Sir Owen Woodhouse. His Report, and the spirit which pervades its pages, vest human endeavour with a compassion, an empathy and a generosity of spirit which the dignity and worth of ordinary people fully deserve. 

Perhaps, after all, notwithstanding his vast intellect, his extensive learning and his capacity to write beautiful prose, Sir Owen is an ordinary man. I suspect that he would not wish it otherwise.

But it is otherwise. Although not in my script, I will conclude by adopting and expanding the phrase used by Ross Wilson this morning, to which Sir Owen so audibly demurred.

Put simply: today we do not honour just an ordinary man; today we honour a truly great man.

read more > 1 2 3