Hard worker with sharp legal mind, 'a huge heart'

By Catherine Masters, Edward Gay

Son Alastair Haigh (right) and Paul East, QC, lead pallbearers carrying John Haigh's casket. Photo / Greg Bowker
Son Alastair Haigh (right) and Paul East, QC, lead pallbearers carrying John Haigh's casket. Photo / Greg Bowker

John Haigh's fellow QC Stuart Grieve will miss popping down the hall and seeing him wandering about his chambers in his socks with soft classical music playing in the background.

SPCA executive director Bob Kerridge remembers the animal lover who stuck up for battery hens at an animal welfare conference last year.

And Ray Bianchi from the Northern Amalgamated Workers Union recalls that the man who became famous in his later years for defending some prominent corporate clients was not afraid to sock it to employers in the 1980s when he represented unions.

The 65-year-old Mr Haigh, who was one of the country's most respected lawyers, died suddenly from a brain haemorrhage last weekend.

The tributes have flowed all week, culminating in a packed funeral service yesterday at Auckland's Holy Trinity Cathedral in Parnell.

More than a thousand people turned out to hear family members and long-time friends speak about a man with a brilliant legal mind who was not afraid to take on the tough cases.

The congregation also heard about the private family man who treasured his wife, Susan, and his two children, who survive him.

Brother Tim Haigh spoke of Mr Haigh's proud Irish ancestry.

"He obtained his Irish passport and was very pleased he had more than one passport - just like some of his criminal clients."

Lawyer and former Attorney-General Paul East, QC, paid tribute to his friend's wicked sense of humour. On one occasion Mr Haigh spotted a friend at the traffic lights. Mr East said Mr Haigh yelled out: "Stop that man, I've seen him on Crime Watch."

Another long-time friend, Justice Rodney Hansen, said Mr Haigh had an "arsenal of skills which made him formidable".

"He had a deep, instinctive feel for what was fair and just."

Earlier colleagues said John Haigh inherited a huge sense of social justice from his father, Frank, who was also a lawyer.

Frank Haigh represented the unions in the 1951 waterfront dispute and raised his son among activists and lefties.

John Haigh was admitted as a barrister and solicitor in 1970 and in his early years as a lawyer handled many an industrial dispute for the then New Zealand Labourers' Union.

He was also a criminal defence lawyer who used to cross swords with Stuart Grieve when Mr Grieve, now a defence lawyer with offices on the same floor, was a Crown prosecutor.

Mr Grieve said that with juries, Mr Haigh retained his humanity and common touch and where some defence lawyers had lost cases that should have been won, Mr Haigh was not in that category - "he won a few that he should have lost".

A close friend, John Billington, QC, said Mr Haigh gave everything to his clients and also took time to maintain his friendships.

"I think probably his most distinguishing feature that I recall was his interest in caring for people."

Mr Haigh was known for taking on big and sometimes unpopular cases, such as that of assistant police commissioner Clint Rickards, who was facing sex charges and who was acquitted. But Mr Billington says his friend also had a name for taking on cases of high-profile people who wanted to fly under the radar.

"He was a go-to person for people who may have been in the public eye, or didn't want to be in the public eye, who had problems and he was a very great fixer of problems."

Mr Grieve said that although Mr Haigh was trying to reduce his huge workload, he was still under stress.

"He'd had Pike River [the royal commission], which was huge, and he was acting for the [Ports of Auckland] company, so they were stressful times for him."

A younger friend, barrister Paul Wicks, who set up the City Chambers law firm in Auckland in 2003 with Mr Haigh, said the QC was a mentor and a very special friend. He was witty and loved a practical joke.

Mr Wicks, too, said Mr Haigh had a high regard for and love of animals.

"I'm sure the fact that animals can't defend themselves might have had something to do with it."

Mr Kerridge said Mr Haigh was one of the first to offer his services to the SPCA Auckland's panel of pro bono lawyers who prosecute animal cruelty cases, and recalled him at a conference last year debating fiercely with the Minister of Agriculture on battery-hen farming when it was suggested that emotions should not be brought into the issue.

Said Mr Kerridge: "That was the measure of the man. He had a huge heart."

- NZ Herald

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