High Court at Christchurch

Swearing-In of Associate Judge Owen Paulsen, Christchurch, 2 August 2019

Jonathan Eaton QC gave the following address on behalf of the New Zealand Bar Association on the occasion of the swearing-in of Associate Judge Owen Paulsen at the High Court at Christchurch on 2 August 2019.

E ngā mana, e ngā reo,  e te iwi whanui, tēnā koutou, tēnā koutou, tēnā koutou

All people, languages and creeds, welcome, welcome, welcome. 

He mihi nui ki a koe, Kaiwhakawā Paulsen

A special acknowledgement to Associate Judge Paulsen

Your Honour the Right Honourable Chief Justice Winkelman, all Judges and Associate Judges of the Courts of New Zealand; your Honour Associate Judge Paulsen, it is my pleasure on behalf of the New Zealand Bar Association to welcome you and Sarah home to Christchurch and to record our delight at your appointment as an associate judge of this court. I extend to you the very warmest congratulations from the members of the bar.

We, and now I speak on behalf of the University of Canterbury Graduate Class of 1986, represented in Christchurch litigation circles by Glenn Jones, Tim McGinn, Catherine Bibbey, Nick Rout and myself (apologies if I have missed anyone), are particularly proud of your accomplishments to date in what is proving to be a stellar career in the law.

Of course we have been alienated from you for several years now following your appointment, in the footsteps of one the great leaders of the bar, Nigel Hampton QC, as Lord Chief Justice of the Kingdom of Tonga. And whilst members of the New Zealand bar do, not infrequently, appear in the Supreme Court of Tonga (the equivalent of this court) and the Tongan Court of Appeal, I don’t believe any of the South Island bar do so.

Mr Zarifeh and Mr Tyrrell have referred to your legal career here in Christchurch.  To understand and learn more about your judicial career in Tonga I have had to go a little further afield. 

I have been greatly assisted by my good friend, the Lord Chancellor of Tonga, Harry Waalkens QC (and KC of the Kingdom of Tonga) who, in that role oversaw and made the ultimate recommendation that led to your appointment as Lord Chief Justice.

The Lord Chancellor sends his apologies that trial commitments prevent him being here today. He stressed with real warmth that it was his pleasure to offer his reflections on your time in Tonga. He, better than any other member of the independent bar of New Zealand, knows of your achievements in Tonga.

Your Honour was appointed to the distinguished role of Lord Chief Justice in December 2014 retiring very recently to take up the position as an Associate Judge of this court. During that time, you have also undertaken the roles of President of the Court of Appeal for Tonga, President of the Land Court and Advisor to His Majesty in Privy Council in land cases. 

The Lord Chancellor credits your Honour with having not only maintained but advanced Tonga’s standing and reputation in the Pacific region. A standing and reputation for excellence in terms of integrity, independence and competence of its judicial system.  

Over the past 5 years your Honour has conducted the lion’s share of all commercial and civil cases in the Supreme Court (the equivalent of New Zealand’s High Court) – many of which have involved complex and weighty matters of constitutional law and other challenging principles of law and fact, along with serious crime including high level allegations of corruption.

In his role as a counsel who has appeared on many occasions before your Honour in Tonga, but also from feedback from the local bar, Mr Waalkens tells me your Honour developed from the outset, a reputation of being an exceptionally courteous , hardworking and studious judge – prepared to roll up your sleeves and undertake your own research and preparation in advance of the case.  Mr Waalkens made particular mention that your courtesy to counsel also extended to court and other justice department staff at all levels.  

Attributes that we remember of your time practising here in Christchurch as mentioned by my friend Mr Tyrrell.

The quality of your judgments has been evidenced by the very rare occasion where Tonga’s Court of Appeal (a three judge court enjoying highly qualified and respected senior retired members of the New Zealand and Australian legal systems) has seen fit to intervene.  

During your tenure as Lord Chief Justice your Honour introduced judicial case management and other administrative improvements within Tonga’s courts and actively contributed to the training and advancement of members of the local bar.  

The Lord Chancellor summarises your Honour as a much loved and admired member of the Tongan judiciary and asked me to pass on that the wider Tongan community has been very sad to learn of your resignation and wishes you well in your future judicial career in New Zealand.

The community reaction might have been influenced in part by the early rumour circulating as to your departure.

I understand the word was that the Lord Chief Justice was leaving because he had qualified to be a contestant on New Zealand’s “Dancing with the Stars”. 

However, the inside word (here please read Lord Chancellor), is that your Honour, is many things but apparently not a dancer!

Mr Waalkens did share one story that highlighted your commitment to judicial office.

He happens to know well one of your neighbours in Tonga. A man who is also a member of the local Tongan bar.  That neighbour had acted as counsel for a hotel business in Tonga which closed its doors secondary to an acrimonious shareholders dispute.  Upon closing its doors, the hotel delivered the entire contents of its bar to your neighbour.  He, considering it to be the right neighbourly thing to do, but perhaps oblivious to perceptions, delivered several cases of very good New Zealand wines and spirits next door to the tender care of Mrs Paulsen.

Upon being apprised of the no doubt well-intentioned neighbourly gesture, your Honour promptly returned the lot. 

A response unquestionably driven by your Honour’s uncompromising commitment to the principle of judicial independence.  

Your Honour, you are undoubtedly very suitably qualified for your new role. It is abundantly clear that your served as Lord Chief Justice with distinction. That experience will ensure a seamless transition to, and success on the bench of this court. 

Those of us who practise at the independent bar look forward to appearing before your Honour. Congratulations and best wishes.

Nō reira, tēnā koutou, tēnā koutou, tēnā koutou katoa

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