Sir Ronald Davison QC, who died the other day aged 94, will be remembered as a Chief Justice not afraid to roll up his sleeves and get stuck in - without fear or favour.

The father of leading Queen's Counsel Paul Davison, Sir Ronald was Chief Justice from 1978 to 1989 - the tenth man to hold the position.

He is widely remembered for heading a government inquiry into overseas company taxation - known as the Winebox Inquiry, between 1994 and 1997.

It involved allegations against several parties including merchant bankers Fay Richwhite.


Sir Ronald cleared European Pacific of tax fraud, only to be told later by the Appeal Court he had incorrectly applied tax law.

A further investigation by the Serious Fraud Office resulted in a decision not to prosecute anyone linked to the transaction at the centre of the tax fraud allegations because of difficulties in establishing criminal intent.

Sir Ronald also presided over a 1994 inquiry into the Family Court, which resulted in a number of changes being made to child protection law.

But it was for his "uncompromising sentence" of 10 years in jail for two captured Rainbow Warrior bombers that Sir Ronald was made the New Zealand Herald's New Zealander of the Year in 1985.

Sir Ronald condemned state terrorism by the French government and its bombers Alain Mafart and Dominique Prieur - part of a gang of murderous French agents who sneaked into New Zealand and blew up the Greenpeace flagship in Auckland harbour - 30 years ago today - killing crew member Fernando Pereira.

Defence lawyers' arguments that the pair were "just following orders" cut no ice with Sir Ronald.

"This was a deliberate, planned operation of a terrorist nature, carried out for political and ideological motives, using explosives in circumstances where there was a high risk of injury and possibly loss of life, and where heavy damage was caused to the vessel involved," Sir Ronald said.

"The sentence imposed must give a clear warning to such as the defendants and their masters that terrorist-type activities will be met with a stern reaction and severe punishment."

"People who come to this country and commit terrorist activities cannot expect to have a short holiday at the expense of our Government and return home as heroes."

The Herald wholeheartedly supported him.

"The Rainbow Warrior sinking was a shabby criminal enterprise, which has ended, as it should, in imprisonment, although for regrettably few of the perpetrators," the paper said the next day.

Prime Minister and lawyer the late David Lange and his Labour Government later made a mockery of the judge's sentence, and New Zealand justice, by selling the bombers - who were welcomed home as heroes after a brief Pacific holiday - back to the duplicitous French for $13 million.

Undaunted, the Herald stuck with Sir Ronald as New Zealander of the Year, reiterating that he said what needed to be said and did what needed to be done.

Litigious parents threaten law firms

CaseLoad is hearing of furious mums and dads threatening law firms with injunctions if their kids are overlooked for partnerships, legal perks and a bigger slice of the cake.

It is said increased threats have forced some major firms to work together and draw up legal advice for law firms hiring lawyers with litigious parents.

This follows several serious injunction threats against some of New Zealand's biggest and best-known law firms - including one alleging a young lawyer identified only as "Rupert" was overlooked for partnership after having been with a firm for a whole six months.

"Some firms have even delayed naming their Friday Karaoke teams because of legal threats from parents upset over selections," said A Big Firm Spokesman.

"We know of one Wellington firm forced to settle out of court after parents complained "Charlotte" (not her real name) did not get a speaking role at the High Court in a really big case involving the disputed ownership of a stray dog."

Parents think being selected for karaoke, social touch rugby teams, charity fun runs and Friday night drinks duties provides a platform for career opportunities, where if their kids miss out it may adversely affect such opportunities.

A Big Law Firm Chairman - who asked not to be named for fear of reprisals - said injunctions and other legal threats were edging "dangerously close" to undermining the authority of law firms to manage their affairs.

"Law firms are entering new territory by having to second-guess how to handle themselves..."

"So far we have not had to go to the Government, cap in hand, but that cannot be discounted if things continue to get worse..."

"A legal Pandora's Box has been opened and there's no telling where this could end..."

His friends care about John

Friends and legal colleagues are wondering why popular Auckland barrister John Revans Eichelbaum, proud son of former Chief Justice Sir Tom Eichelbaum - the last man to hold the role in New Zealand - appears a bit off colour lately.

"I think sometimes folk misunderstand the hectic to-ing and fro-ing that surrounds a busy life in law and can easily jump to a wrong conclusion..." said Our Man At The Bar, wistfully shaking out his purse.

"I'm not saying that's the case with Eichelbaum Junior and I can only speak from my own experiences..."

"Wistfully? What b*ll*cks... He's up to something..." said The Scunner.

Clarification is sought...

Chris Rosie drops CaseLoad a line

"Just to note that your column, which is one of my week's first reads, last week took me back to the first day of a stint many years ago as a sub-editor on the Daily Telegraph in London.

One matter that was forcibly impressed on me, as a colonial, was that, should I have to deal with a story on the Magna Carta (unlikely as I was employed to handle foreign news), it was SEALED, NOT SIGNED.

Thankfully, I never learned what the punishment was for any transgression."
Chris Rosie (NZ Herald 1970-1999)

Gordon McLauchlan (84) thinks about a comma

To cut a verbose Washington Post story short, Judge Robert A. Hendrickson and the 12th District Court of Appeals in Ohio declared a victory for punctuation and sanity.

These defenders of punctuation and champions of copy editors overturned a village parking ordinance because of its comma-related failings.

Back in February 2014, Andrea Cammelleri was ticketed after she left her pick-up truck (ute) parked on a street in West Jefferson, Ohio.

Village law stated it was illegal to park "any motor vehicle camper, trailer, farm implement and/or non-motorised vehicle" on a street for more than 24 hours.

At trial, Cammelleri argued that the ordinance did not apply because "the language prohibits a motor vehicle camper from being parked on a street for an extended period of time".

NB: Motor vehicle camper, - not motor vehicle, camper, etc...

Convicting Cammelleri nevertheless, the trial court ruled the ordinance unambiguously applied to motor vehicles and anybody reading it would understand "that it is just missing a comma".

On appeal Cammelleri stuck to her guns that her pick-up truck was not a motor vehicle camper and the Appeal Court agreed.

"By utilising rules of grammar and employing the common meaning of terms, 'motor vehicle camper' has a clear definition that does not produce an absurd result," Judge Hendrickson said.

"If the village [West Jefferson] desires a different reading, it should amend the ordinance and insert a comma between the phrase 'motor vehicle' and the word 'camper.'"

CaseLoad is indebted to distinguished wordsmith Gordon McLauchlan - who knows about this stuff - for drawing this yarn to CaseLoad's attention.

Big shoes to follow

CaseLoad is sorry to see Sir David Gascoigne stepping down as Judicial Conduct Commissioner but is confident his replacement, discreet consultant and former Law Society director Alan Ritchie, of sound Otago Boys' High School stock, will make a fine fist of the job.

Sir David Gascoigne is stepping down as Judicial Conduct Commissioner. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Sir David Gascoigne is stepping down as Judicial Conduct Commissioner. Photo / Mark Mitchell

Jurists' favourite boozer "gutted"

A rumour that CaseLoad and assorted Cronies were lost under rubble during the recent "gutting" of Vulcan Lane's Queen's Ferry pub is nothing more than wishful thinking.

Instead of having an extensive menu, the Queen's Ferry - which regularly tops CaseLoad's Places To Be Seen And Heard List - is being transformed into a pub that specialises in good fish and chips.

Watch this space...

"That must be worth a few pints..." said The Scunner.

Impatient footnote

Folk will have to wait to find out how judges fill in their time waiting for juries - some mobile phone photos go a bit too far.

Meanwhile the promised "Five Lawyers To Avoid" has grown to 78 with no sign of stopping and space is at a premium.