Tribute to Justice John Hansen

  • Lianne Dalziel


Speech by Associate Justice Minister Lianne Dalziel on behalf of the government at Justice John Hansen’s final sitting in Christchurch on 11 April 2008

The Courthouse




It is a privilege for me to appear on behalf of the government at Your Honour’s final sitting to pay tribute to your outstanding work as a judicial officer and to offer the government’s best wishes to you on your retirement. The Attorney-General was unable to be here today but sends his best wishes. On a personal note, it gives me great pleasure to recognise the significant contributions you have made to the Christchurch community, both inside the courtroom and beyond.

Your Honour’s remarkable career in the law has spanned almost 40 years, with three quarters of your career spent on the bench.  Born in Fairlie, you were educated at Otago Boys High School and went on to attend Otago University along with contemporaries such as the immediate past Governor-General, Dame Sylvia Cartwright. Your Honour was admitted to the bar in 1968. You had previously joined the firm of Aspinell Joel and Co in 1967, later joining John E Farry where you eventually became a name partner.

 In 1979 you accepted an appointment to the Hong Kong judiciary, prompting a significant change of scene. You held many judicial roles throughout your tenure in Hong Kong between 1979 and 1988 - you sat variously as a magistrate, coroner, District Court Judge and Family Court Judge until you were appointed a Master of the Hong Kong High Court in 1982. You held this position until 1988. Outside your day-to-day judicial activities you were also heavily involved in the Supreme Court Rules Committee and the Hong Kong Law Reform Commission.

You returned to New Zealand in 1988 and were appointed a Master of the High Court.  Between 1993 and 1995 in addition to your duties as a Master, you often served as a judge of the High Court, particularly in the South Island, to assist a busy High Court system. In 1995 you were appointed to your current position as a permanent High Court Judge, sitting primarily in Christchurch, but also in Dunedin, Auckland and Invercargill.

On your appointment to the bench your Honour joined a long line of Otago graduates to be appointed to the bench. A brief glimpse of the make-up of today’s Court of Appeal and High Court indicates the continuing strong presence of graduates from the deep south - the Honourable Justice Robertson on the Court of Appeal, with Justices Young, MacKenzie, Miller, Lang and Mallon sitting in the High Court.

Your voracious appetite for work, robust good judgment, detailed knowledge of the law and incisive ability to discern the merit (or otherwise) of cases presented to you have all been noted by both your colleagues and counsel appearing before you.

Over the past 12 years as a permanent High Court Judge you have sat on numerous trials, particularly in the criminal sphere but branching more recently into the sphere of international sport.

You have heard a great number of cases, some of which will be more memorable than others.  One particular case - unique in that it remained active for over four decades - took place early on in your career on the New Zealand bench: Kutt v Southland District Health Board in 1990. It seems incredible that a case could drift through the legal system for 36 years – files being lost and witnesses passing away in the meantime – until a strike-out application in 1990 argued before you saw an end to the matter, with your wry comment that “the circumstances of this proceeding belong in the legal equivalent of the Guiness Book of Records”.

Outside of the courtroom you have continued to share your knowledge and experience obtained throughout your time on the bench with the New Zealand legal profession. You presented an insightful critique of the legal system as presenter of the FW Guest Memorial Lecture at Otago University in 2006 and more recently spoke on the subject of the Judiciary’s Role in the adversarial system at a recent New Zealand Bar Association Conference in Auckland this year.

Your capacity to carry a significant workload has been long admired by your colleagues as has your detailed knowledge of the law. Your outstanding legal ability and experience has been further recognised in recent times with your Honour sitting on the Court of Appeal.

You have maintained substantial interests outside the Courtroom throughout your career. You are known for your love of sport, in particular rugby and cricket. You were clearly a year-round sporting star at Otago Boys High School, playing in both the first fifteen and the first eleven. Your keen interest in sport has not been dormant during your legal career. In Hong Kong you were captain of the Kowloon Cricket Club and Manager of the Hong Kong cricket eleven tour of Malaysia and Singapore in 1983. In 1986 you received the ICC associate member’s UK trophy.

You remain a keen participant in cricket as the President of the Willows Cricket Club in Christchurch and until recently as a player. I understand you retired from active participation just a year or so ago, after 57 years – an excellent innings indeed! With such a long-time fan of the game at the helm, I have no doubt that cricket at the Willows Cricket Club retains the reputation for being a gentleman’s game.

Recently you have been in the happy position of combining your interests in law and cricket, when you acted as an Appeals Commissioner for the ICC earlier this year, considering a case involving heated discussions between the Indian and Australian cricket teams.

The government well recognises that public service is not without cost to those who render it. The government also recognises that public service also very much impacts on the families of those who serve, and in this regard I would like to acknowledge and thank your wife Ann.

On behalf of the government, your Honour, I wish you well in your retirement and thank you for your dedication to both the Law and the community in which you live. I know that you will relish the opportunity that retirement offers to spend more time with family and friends, and to further indulge your love of cricket.

I suspect with your credentials your retirement won’t mean the end of your contribution to the advancement of the law of New Zealand either.

On behalf of the government, I wish you all the very best for your future.