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Judge Robert (Bob) Lindsay Kerr, 1939 - 2019

By Nick Butcher

Retired District Court Judge Robert Kerr who died on 18 May will be remembered as a man who was passionate about the law, to the point of being practically airtight prepared for any case or legal issue he encountered.

Judge Kerr, who was known as Bob to his friends, was 80 years old.

1939, the year Robert Lindsay Kerr was born in Christchurch was also a significant year for the city in that a department store called Millers was the location for New Zealand’s first escalator.

Photo of Judge Robert Kerr

Judge Kerr was the son of a well-known New Zealand cricketer, batsman Jack Kerr who played seven tests during the 1930s. Jack was also a World War II veteran and lived until he was 96.

Judge Kerr did not follow his father’s footsteps into cricket or into accounting but instead attended Canterbury University and graduated with an LLB in 1962.

Christchurch barrister Geoff Brodie knew Judge Kerr well. He considered Bob a mentor during his formative years as a lawyer.

“He was my first employer after I left law school. I was very fortunate to have been taken under his wing not long after I graduated from Canterbury University (1972). I was working for him when I was doing my professionals and he was moving counsel when I was admitted to the bar,” he says.

Mr Brodie describes Bob Kerr as a keen, enthusiastic, inspiring and dedicated lawyer to work for.

“He was in the office at 8 o’clock every morning without fail. While he had a terrific sense of humour, he was always deadly serious about his work. He was conscientious. Every bit of work he did was done thoroughly, properly and well. He had good standards. He wouldn’t take shortcuts or treat things lightly. He was methodical, just a bloody good lawyer and totally my mentor during the early years of my career,” he says.

Always a court lawyer

Mr Brodie remembers what it was like working under Bob Kerr as if it occurred a week ago.

“He was always a court lawyer. He did quite a lot of Crown prosecution criminal work. He was on the panel for the crown solicitor’s office in Christchurch. He also did a lot of criminal defence work. This included jury trials and appeals, but he wasn’t just a criminal practitioner,” he says.

There was also civil and family court work, matrimonial and trust practice legal work along with commercial work too.

“So while he was a court lawyer, he could do just about anything that the circumstances threw up,” says Mr Brodie.

Bob Kerr wasn’t theatrical or combative in court. He was as Geoff Brodie remembers, ‘impeccably correct’.

“He would prepare his cases thoroughly including cross examinations and submissions to the court. He’d also get out and look at the scene of a crime or accident. He would always interview witnesses. So by the time he got to court it would be rare for him to be surprised. He wouldn’t show off or be flashy. He would rather the case was won as a result of his hard work,” he says.  

Mr Brodie worked with Bob Kerr up until he was appointed a District Court Judge. Bob Kerr became Judge Robert Kerr in 1981. It was then that he moved to Auckland.

Geoff Brodie never appeared before Judge Kerr in a courtroom, except for one minor occasion in Christchurch, which involved a formal matter.

“I knew him too well. It would never have been fair to the other side for me to appear in a courtroom in front of him,” he says.

Judge Robert Kerr was the President of the Canterbury District Law Society from 1978-79. He was also heavily involved in various committees such as Courts and Tribunals as it was called back in the 1970s.

While he did not reach the heights of his father Jack in cricket, it was certainly a sport that he deeply enjoyed playing, along with golf.

He played cricket for Burnside West Christchurch University Cricket Club, a club he helped establish, as a result of merging three clubs.

“At the time, it had the distinction of having the longest name for a cricket club in the western world,” Geoff Brodie recalls.

The old Skoda

Retired lawyer John McIntosh was a law firm partner with Robert Kerr for a number of years.

He remembers a time when he was a law clerk straight out of University in the early 1970s and had to drive Bob Kerr’s car out the prison to obtain a signature from an inmate for a document. This was before he became a partner.

“Bob had this old Skoda car which was very different to the models out there today. He arrived early one morning, left the motor running for me to hop in and drive out to Paparua prison. I got the signature, went back to the car but couldn’t start it. It had various pull knobs. So I went back to the watch house in the prison and they said there are people here that can help. So an inmate got the car started for me. He even offered to get under the bonnet. Litigation wasn’t hugely profitable at the time and Bob’s car was an interesting vehicle to drive,” he says.

The firm also included law firm partner and deceased retired District Court Judge, John Elderson Millar, and was called Millar and Kerr.

“Before I arrived it was a two-person firm with John doing the conveyancing and Bob doing the court work litigation. I came in and did more work aligned with John Millar. But when Geoff Brodie came into the partnership, he took on litigation work with Bob,” he says.

The firm went on to become Millar Kerr & Co when John McIntosh joined the partnership. But when John Millar went to Hamilton to be a District Court Judge, it then became, Kerr McIntosh as retaining a Judge’s last name was not allowed. By the late 1970s the firm merged with another big firm in Christchurch called Anthony Polson & Robertson to become Anthony Polson & Co.

“The attraction of the merger at the time was that they didn’t really have a court team so this meant they got Bob and Geoff. We were one of the biggest firms in town with something like eight partners,” John McIntosh says.

Judge Robert (Bob) Kerr is survived by his wife Joanne, his daughter Belinda and son Hamish. His eldest son, Richard passed away last year. He has five grandchildren. None of his children became lawyers but Hamish did enter law enforcement and was a Detective in the Police.

Last updated on the 25th June 2019