Paul von Dadelszen has been a judge for 26 years and based in Hawke's Bay for 16 of those. Last Friday marked his official retirement. Anna Ferrick caught up with him to discuss his long career and his plans for the future.
1. What is your connection to Hawke's Bay?
I was born in Hawke's Bay and, after obtaining my law degree at Victoria University, returned to practise law in my father's firm until I was appointed a District Court Judge. I can't imagine living anywhere else. Why would you want to, given the kind of lifestyle which the Bay has to offer?
2. How did you become involved in law?
My father was a lawyer (as is my brother and one of my children) so one might say that the law is in the blood. I can never remember seriously wanting any other career, although if I had been any good at science, I could imagine myself as having become a surgeon.
I became a judge in 1987 to preside in Palmerston North in the family, civil and criminal jurisdictions of the district court. As I was appointed mainly as a Family Court judge, that jurisdiction has been my primary focus.
Indeed, since being transferred to Hawke's Bay about 16 years ago, I have sat only in the Family Court, except for the Youth Court, for which I got a warrant in 1998. My preference has always been the Family Court.
3. Is there any particular stand-out case or cases that you have seen during your career?
The jurisdiction of the Family Court is so wide and varied that it is difficult to pick those cases which have stood out. However, those which I have valued the most have included cases where the Family Court is required to make orders in its "care and protection" jurisdiction, that is, where children become the responsibility of the State through its agency, Child Youth and Family. Depending on the age of the child, the Court approves CYF plans for the child in care at 6 or 12 monthly intervals. Those times when the child has come to court to meet the judge have been particularly enjoyable and memorable. Other valued cases were those under the mental health legislation, where the Family Court judge is involved in making orders for compulsory treatment. Interesting and intellectually challenging other work has been that under the legislation dealing with the division of property after the break-up of a relationship.
4. Have you noticed any particular changes in the types of things that have come through the courts over your career?
Regrettably, hearing cases involving family violence have become much more common, especially since the increased prevalence of illegal drugs in our community. Also, with it becoming more difficult now for parties to obtain legal aid, there has been a rise in the number of self litigants, namely, those who cannot afford a lawyer. This has put more pressure, not just on judges, but also on court staff, as it is extremely difficult for the self litigant to be objective and to focus properly on the real and relevant issues. As for the future, I worry that possible changes to the law which may come about as a result of the current review of the Family Court will reduce the ability of children in childcare cases to have their voices heard when decisions are being made about their lives, something which is required by the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child.
5. What do you plan to do with the next chapter of your life?
I shall continue my work as a member of the Family Violence Death Review Committee. And the Law Society has asked me to chair a seminar on International Adoption and Surrogacy. I went to Georgia on two occasions last year to conduct workshops for judges on family law in New Zealand and I may get an invitation to return and do more of that. I also have an advisory role to play in respect of a mediation project that is being trialled in Ireland. There will be more time for reading and travel. My wife and I have six grandchildren, all in Wellington. so they can expect to see more of us.