The Supremes - who’s who on NZ’S highest court

Dame Sian Elias, Chief Justice

Born: March 13, 1949.
Retires: Officially 12 years off - will go well before (not a time-server).
Bench: High Court judge 1995. Chief Justice 1999 - New Zealand’s first female Chief Justice.
Key Issue: Her position could be undermined by Government over tussles on judicial independence.
Defining Point: Made her name as a barrister on Treaty of Waitangi cases.
Personal: Financially independent. Married into Fletcher family - husband Hugh Fletcher is a retired industrialist. Breeds and races horses.
Senior Bar views: "Very intelligent. A good conceptual thinker. Not the greatest of administrators. She’s not an Eichelbaum ... There’s not the clock-like teutonic efficiency." Not given enough judgments to stamp her mark - yet.

Thomas Gault

Born: October 31, 1938.
Retires: 18 months.
Bench: High Court judge (1987); Court of Appeal (1991), President (2002).
Key Issue: The most senior Supreme on judicial experience. His appointment as Appeal Court President quelled suggestions former Attorney-General Margaret Wilson was disposed to appointing those who had a liberal judicial philosophy.
Defining Point: A rigorous lawyer with strong expertise in intellectual property.
Personal: Keen golfer.
Senior bar views: Hardly a dreaded judicial activist.

Good work in commercial arena. Unlikely to produce anything particularly innovative ... programmed for the conservative result.

Sir Kenneth Keith

Born: November 19, 1937.
Retires: Seven months.
Bench: High Court (1996); Court of Appeal (1996).
Key Issue: Whether his Government-backed bid for a place on the International Court of Justice succeeds.
Defining Point: Member of the legal team that took cases against the French for nuclear testing in the Pacific. Vast experience in international diplomacy and law.
Personal: Only knight among the Supremes.
Senior Bar views: At his best on international treaties and obligations and how they react to local law.

Peter Blanchard

Born: August 2, 1942.
Retires: Five years off.
Bench: High Court Judge (1992); Court of Appeal (1996).
Key Issue: His influence on the Supreme Court should dispel business concerns over the loss of the right of appeal to the Privy Council.
Defining Point: Vast commercial experience as a company director and partner in Simpson Grierson before going on the bench.
Personal: "Something of a poet at Kings College", according to Appeal Court Judge Robert Chambers at a function honouring him. A movie aficionado.
Senior Bar views: Has a super mind. Something of a maverick, which makes him interesting. He could change the law if it suited him and would - as would Tipping ... but Blanchard is fairly conservative. They all are.

Andrew Tipping

Born: August 22, 1942.
Retires: Five years.
Bench: High Court (1986); Court of Appeal (1997); Privy Council (1998).
Key Issue: Bringing his expertise on freedom of expression to bear at Supreme Court level.
Defining Point: Emphasis in Appeal Court case that freedom of expression in Bill of Rights Act should be given full weight - citizens may expect that "on appropriate occasions" the courts will indicate whether a particular legislative provision is or is not justified.
Personal: Golfer. Honorary doctorate.
Senior Bar views: An orthodox judge. Highly intelligent man who doesn’t have any agenda. Will come down on the liberal or conservative side depending on what he thinks is the right result.

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