Former Chief Justice Sir Thomas Eichelbaum has died, aged 87.
In a statement, Chief Justice Dame Sian Elias, who succeeded Sir Thomas as Chief Justice, said serving and former members of the judiciary have been deeply saddened to hear of the death of Sir Thomas.
Sir Thomas was Chief Justice of New Zealand from 1989 to 1999.
"Chief Justice Eichelbaum was a reforming leader of the judiciary who modernised courts administration during his time in office," Elias said.
"He was held in the highest affection by the judges who served under him both for his leadership and for his personal warmth and kindness.
"He was greatly admired as a very fine judge."
Ministry of Justice chief executive Andrew Bridgman said, "It is sad to see the loss of an excellent legal mind who made an invaluable contribution to New Zealand, both in his practice of the law and in the important role of Chief Justice.
"We are much better off for his contribution to public life."
Eichelbaum was born in Königsberg, Germany, in 1931 to Jewish parents.
His family emigrated to Wellington, New Zealand, in 1938 to escape the persecution of Jews.
He was educated at Hutt Valley High School, then attended Victoria University College, graduating with an LLB in 1954.
Sir Thomas was a former representative tennis player and had a long association with the New Zealand Lawn Tennis Association.
He was married to the late Lady Vida Eichelbaum, who died in 2013, and is survived by their three adult sons.
After admission to the profession, Sir Thomas joined Chapman Tripp and Co where he became a partner in 1958.
In addition to his wide-ranging litigation practice before the New Zealand courts and tribunals at all levels, Sir Thomas was counsel in a number of Commissions of Inquiry, including the Lake Manapouri Commission in 1970, the Inquiry into Chiropractice in 1978 and the Marginal Lands Inquiry in 1981.
He remained in this role until 1978 when he was appointed Queen's Counsel.
During his time in legal practice, Sir Thomas gave lengthy service to the profession.
He was President of the Wellington District Law Society from 1968-1975 and President of the New Zealand Law Society from 1980-1982.
New Zealand Law Society President Kathryn Beck said the legal profession will be saddened at news of the death of Sir Thomas Eichelbaum.
"On his retirement as President, the Law Society's Council's tribute to him included the statement that he was a 'very friendly, humane and cheerful and essentially, modest man'. By all accounts that summed him up," she said.
"Sir Thomas arrived in New Zealand in 1938 at the age of seven, a refugee from Nazi Germany. His rise to prominence in the legal profession and the judiciary from such a beginning is in itself a statement of his determination and ability. We have lost an important contributor to our justice system."
In 1982 Sir Thomas was appointed a Judge of the New Zealand High Court.
He was then made an additional judge of the Court of Appeal in 1984, before being appointed the Chief Justice of New Zealand in 1989, at the age of 58.
He was the first Chief Justice to be appointed from the New Zealand bench. In the same year he was knighted and appointed to the Privy Council.
He held the bench for 10 years, before retiring in 1999. He was awarded an honorary LLD from Victoria University in the same year.
Sir Thomas' pragmatic approach enabled many reforms in the courts.
He oversaw the introduction of computers, the case management system and the Criminal Appeals Division, and the abolition of wigs in High Court proceedings.
He also pushed for the separation of the Department of Courts from the Ministry of Justice, to bolster judicial independence.
In his judgments Sir Thomas was always mindful of providing clear guidance on the law.
Since retiring as a judge, Sir Thomas has conducted investigations on a number of controversial topics.
He chaired the 2000–2001 Report of the Royal Commission on Genetic Modification. The job was never going to be easy but Sir Thomas proved up to the job.
One of his biggest challenges was mastering a staggering volume of information - the formal hearings alone produced 4600 pages of transcripts covering health and environmental objections and social, cultural and ethical concerns.
Sir Thomas summed it up modestly as an "exhaustive debate" but was still able to deliver a readable, conscientious and coherent - if controversial - final report.
He also investigated the reasons for New Zealand losing co-hosting rights to the 2003 Rugby World Cup.
Following his report, the chairman and the CEO of the New Zealand Rugby Union both resigned.
In 2001, he conducted a ministerial inquiry reviewing children's evidence in the controversial Peter Ellis case.
His report, which has been widely criticised, upheld the guilty verdicts and stands in contrast to an earlier report by retired High Court judge, Sir Thomas Thorp.
Eichelbaum was also a non-permanent judge of the Hong Kong SAR Court of Final Appeal and a part-time justice of the Supreme Court of Fiji and the Court of Appeal of Fiji.
Attorney-General David Parker also paid tribute to Sir Thomas, and former Supreme Court Judge Sir John McGrath, who died on October 19, aged 73.
"Both Sir Thomas and Sir John were eminent jurists who made a remarkable contribution to the law and justice in New Zealand.
"On behalf of the Government, I extend my deepest sympathies to their families," he said.