Former Chief Justice dies

by Hannah Norton06 Jul 2015

Sir Ronald Davison - New Zealand’s tenth Chief Justice - has died aged 94.

A death notice in The New Zealand Herald this morning said he died peacefully in his home last Thursday.

His funeral is being held at the Holy Trinity Anglican Cathedral in Parnell on Wednesday.

Sir Davison practiced law in Auckland for three decades; most of which he spent as a barrister sole. He became a leading lawyer and was appointed Queen’s Counsel.

At age 57, he was appointed Chief Justice. He later became well-known for heading the Winebox Inquiry between 1994 and 1997, looking into overseas company taxation, including that of merchant bank Fay Richwhite.

During his time as Chief Justice from 1979 to 1989, there were significant changes in the courts – including the Supreme Court being renamed the High Court and the magistrates' courts becoming district courts.

In a tribute to him issued today, current Chief Justice Dame Sian Elias said the years when Sir Davison was Chief Justice helped bring New Zealand’s justice system into the modern era.

“Sir Ronald’s contribution to the New Zealand legal landscape was immense, and his legacy continues to be experienced by anyone coming into contact with today’s court processes,”

She noted Sir Davison was one of the last remaining members of the New Zealand judiciary who had served in the Second World War.

“Perhaps this background influenced his strongly held belief in the importance of protecting the legal rights of individuals and minority groups, and that the judiciary must strive to remain in tune with responsible public opinion," she said.

Former Prime Minister Sir Geoffrey Palmer paid tribute to his role in the host of changes during his tenure in a speech during Davison’s final sitting as Chief Justice.

“You would not claim credit for all those changes, but you have been involved in them all, either advocating the change or agreeing with it and supporting its introduction when an obscurantist approach could have slowed the pace of development,” Sir Palmer said.

“The result has been a judicial system which is alive to the needs of the day whilst maintaining a firm connection with those traditions of the past which make the Courts such an important part of our Constitution.”

Sir Davison’s son is well known lawyer Paul Davison QC.