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Charles Henry (Harry) Arndt, 1905 - 1985

By Paul Neazor QC

Harry Arndt died in Wellington on 16 August 1985. There was a special sitting of the High Court in Number 1 courtroom at 10am on 6 September 1985 to mark his death. The judges who sat were the Chief Justice Sir Ronald Davison (presiding), Jeffries and Eichelbaum JJ. Also on the bench were Sir John White and Sir Barry O’Regan. A significant number of practitioners who had known Mr Arndt were present in court. Here are the remarks addressed to the Court by Wellington District Law Society President Paul Neazor QC.

The Society is obliged to your Honours for making possible this opportunity to mention in Court the death of Charles Henry Arndt. It is now every practitioner whose death is marked in this way, but it is appropriate that Mr Arndt’s should be since so much of his long professional life was spent in this and other courtrooms.

Photo of Harry Arndt
Harry Arndt. 

Mr Arndt was a true Wellingtonian. He was born here on 12 September 1905, was educated here and spent his whole life in Wellington. He completed his LLB degree at Victoria University College by the time he was 21, but did not seek admission to the bar immediately thereafter. Because of pressure of study, he had simply had enough of the law for the time being. He took the step of gaining admission on 21 October 1927 and he practised actively, apart from war service, for the next 57 years.

He joined the law firm of O’Donovan and Barker and about 1930 became a partner in that firm after Mr FW Ongley had joined it. In 1932 he graduated as Master of Laws. Mr Arndt continued in that partnership until his service in the Second NZEF which took him to the Middle East, Egypt and Italy. He started as an infantryman and was then in Intelligence, serving in Battalion and Brigade Intelligence and Field Security and Brigade Head Office Staff. He was away from New Zealand from April 1941 until September 1945.

On his return he continued in partnership with Mr O’Donovan and Miss EE Ongley, Mr FW Ongley having left to take up the appointment of Judge of the Compensation Court. In 1947 Mr Arndt joined Mr CJ O’Regan in partnership, thus establishing the firm with which his name was associated until his death.

Mr Arndt practised in many fields of the law throughout his professional life, but he is probably best known to most practitioners as a common lawyer. He appeared in civil and criminal litigation and, in the days of personal injury litigation, he had a very substantial practice for plaintiffs. It was not unknown at that time on the civil fixtures day before the Registrar in this courtroom for most of the available sitting time to be sought by Mr Arndt for cases he had which were ready for trial. If by chance there was a day which nobody else wanted, Mr Arndt would be ready to take it.

It was well known that he was retained by several trade unions to look after their members’ claims in this field. He was adviser to the Federation of Labour and solicitor for many unions. A variety of work in a variety of courts and before Tribunals came to him through that connection.

In 1951 he appeared for many men who were charged under the Emergency Regulations which were in force at that time. Throughout his career he appeared in most Courts in the country and his name features as counsel in many reported cases.

Advocacy was the work he had looked forward to in legal practice and it is work that he succeeded in, despite all of the tensions and problems that go with it. His service in the armed forces was something which he regarded as a useful foundation for the litigation which occupied so much of his time in the High Court before the advent of Accident Compensation. Juries were made up of men and he was well acquainted with how men thought and reacted.

Mr Arndt’s approach as counsel was orderly (even if one might not describe his desk quite in that way) and quiet, but persistent, whether in Court as an advocate or outside discussing the possibility of settlement. He would not advise settlement of a damages claim at less than he thought his client should receive and he did not shrink from the contest if that was not forthcoming.

His own assessment of what was needed for success at the bar was one shared by others: that it required integrity, hard work and a knowledge of things outside the law that affected people’s lives. He met those standards himself and he tried to be and plainly, in his opponents’ eyes, and no doubt to the Court, was fully prepared on the facts and the law in every case he argued.

He had a strong feeling for what propriety required of a barrister. That if any person desired his services and was able to pay a proper fee then the personal case should be undertaken. Whether the party’s cause was a proper one or not was completely irrelevant.

His example to the profession was simple doing what was professional and proper.

The regard in which he was held by us as a senior practitioner was evident whenever he came into the robing room and was perhaps most clearly marked when he was invited to be the senior member of the Society who addressed the Court here on the occasion of the Society’s centenary.

A fine photograph was taken as he spoke on that occasion [above] and that is a permanent adornment of the wall of the Society’s offices.

Mr Arndt can be described as a distinguished lawyer not because he was laden with the honours that came to some in the profession, but because he knew and faithfully complied with the highest standards of the bar. We are pleased to be able to pay this public tribute of respect to his memory.

Tribute by Chief Justice Sir Ronald Davison

Mr Arndt was well known not only to men of law in this city but to practitioners throughout New Zealand and the Judges for whom I speak wish to be associated in this tribute to his memory.

The Law Society Centennial publication Portrait of a Profession published in 1969 records: "Two perennial sources of write for damages for personal injuries: Ongley O'Donovan & Arndt and PJ O'Regan & Son are the forerunners of the modern firm of O'Regan Arndt Peters & Evans. Nor has the spring ceased to flow. The recent death of CJ O'Regan a loveable man of eccentric habits and diverse interests leaves CH Arndt as the only survivor of the early partners still in the firm."

After the death of Mr OC Mazengarb QC, Mr Arndt was regarded by his peers in this city as pre-eminent as a plaintiff's counsel in personal injury litigation. He had a strong attachment for his clients - he was a good legal tactician, a straightforward advocate of great integrity, competent in areas of both fact and in law - a man of immaculate ethics, courteous in his dealings with the courts and with fellow practitioners, but always pursuing diligently the interests of his clients. His was an example which younger members of the profession could well follow with advantage.

Mr Arndt continued to appear in this court up until a short time before his death. His last major case in which he appeared for the plaintiff was a defamation action tried in this court in 1983. As one had come to expect of him over the years,  his advocacy of the client's cause prevailed and the plaintiff won. He was a formidable plaintiff's advocate event to the end.

But Mr Arndt was not only a lawyer. He was a sportsman too. He loved all sport, particularly cricket and over later years was frequently to be seen as a spectator indulging his various sporting interests.

Mr President, the Judges join with the members of the bar in their expressions of loss at the death of Mr Arndt.

Mr Arndt's wife predeceased him. There are some 14 members of his family present in court today. To all his family the Judges extend their respectful sympathy on his passing.

This was first published on page 4 of the September 1985 issue of Council Brief, the monthly newsletter of the Wellington District Law Society.

Last updated on the 19th December 2018