NZers of the Year: Sir Kenneth Keith, international jurist

By Claire Harvey

At 68, Sir Kenneth Keith is officially too old to be a judge in New Zealand. But for the rest of the world, he is just the right age to begin a new judicial career.

In November, just two weeks before the 68th birthday which forced Keith to retire from the New Zealand Supreme Court, the United Nations elected him the first New Zealand judge on the International Court of Justice.

In February, he will begin his nine-year term at the court in The Hague, with a hearing of genocide allegations made by Bosnia-Herzegovina against Serbia and Montenegro.

The New Zealand Government spent two years quietly lobbying for Sir Kenneth's candidacy, winning the crucial support of Australia and Canada. When he was elected, Prime Minister Helen Clark said Sir Kenneth's "outstanding qualifications" would reinforce New Zealand's firm commitment to the international court.

Born in Auckland, Sir Kenneth's career has included diplomacy, advocacy and academic work as an international law lecturer, President of the Law Commission and member of statutory and government panels, including the Royal Commission which created the MMP electoral system.

Appointed to the Court of Appeal in 1996, he was also a judge in Fiji, Samoa, the Cook Islands, Niue and on the New Zealand Supreme Court, and was a member of the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council.

Sir Kenneth is perhaps best remembered for arguing at the ICJ against French nuclear testing in the Pacific, as part of the New Zealand and Australian teams which won an injunction against "La Bombe".

Sir Kenneth and his wife Lady Jocelyn, former president of the New Zealand Nurses Association and current President of the New Zealand Red Cross, will commute between New Zealand and the Netherlands to ensure they keep in touch with their seven grandchildren.

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