Claire Trevett

Claire Trevett is the New Zealand Herald’s deputy political editor.

'Father of ACC' dead at 97

Sir Owen Woodhouse leaves important legacy after a life in public service, PM says.

Sir Owen Woodhouse's report on ACC led to one of the most groundbreaking legal reforms New Zealand has ever seen. Photo / Natalie Slade
Sir Owen Woodhouse's report on ACC led to one of the most groundbreaking legal reforms New Zealand has ever seen. Photo / Natalie Slade

Sir Owen Woodhouse died yesterday, aged 97, and tributes have been paid to the "father of ACC" across the political realm.

Sir Owen, former president of the Court of Appeal and World War II veteran, is best known for his role as chairman on the Royal Commission on Accident Compensation in 1966 and 1967, producing the Woodhouse Report, which recommended the no-faults scheme New Zealand has today.

Former Prime Minister Sir Geoffrey Palmer said Sir Owen was a lifelong friend and had been his mentor throughout his legal career.

"I owe him a great deal.

"The thing about Woodhouse was he's had the broadest range of experience anyone could ever have. He didn't just do law. He had great human compassion, a wonderful social conscience and a great feeling for people. He wasn't some dry, desiccated, black-letter lawyer. He was a man of astonishing intelligence and wonderful humanity."

Sir Owen served in the navy in World War II including commanding a torpedo boat in the Adriatic Sea for which he was decorated. Sir Geoffrey said he was also an intelligence officer and worked with the partisans in Yugoslavia during the German occupation. He then embarked on a long and distinguished legal career, rising to president of the Court of Appeal from 1981 to 1986. He was appointed to head the Law Commission by Sir Geoffrey in 1986.

Sir Geoffrey said his report on ACC was among the most groundbreaking legal reforms New Zealand had seen. "It was a brilliant, innovative and revolutionary document. He wrote every word of that report."

Sir Owen's great-nephew Seeby Woodhouse remembered his great-uncle with affection and said he had written an autobiography five years ago.

"He was always sharp as a tack. Every time you'd have a debate with him he'd pick you apart piece by piece. He had a magnificent sense of humour."

Prime Minister John Key said Sir Owen's life exemplified public service and duty to his country. "He leaves a genuinely important legacy."

Council of Trade Unions head Helen Kelly said the "father of ACC" should be thanked for introducing community responsibility, complete rehabilitation and comprehensive entitlements.

Sir Owen lived in Remuera and continued to speak publicly about ACC throughout his life, most recently in 2012, when he pushed for a return to the pay-as-you-go scheme of funding accident compensation rather than full funding.

He became a Knight Commander of the Order of the British Empire in the 1981 Queen's Birthday Honours and in 2007 was made an additional member of the Order of NZ - the country's highest accolade. He was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross in 1944 for his service in the Adriatic.

Parliament last night marked Sir Owen's death with a minute's silence.

- NZ Herald

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