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Robert Gordon Whiting, 1942 - 2018

By Geoff Adlam

Retired Environment Court Judge Gordie Whiting died in Auckland on 6 November 2018 aged 76. In his career he was a highly respected member of the judiciary, and his expertise and knowledge meant that after retirement he was actively involved in a number of important environmental inquiries.

Born in Oamaru on 16 March 1942, his parents were Frederick Whiting and Hannah Whiting (nee Counihan). He attended St Kevin's College in Oamaru before going to Otago University in 1963, graduating with a BA in economics and an LLB in 1967. He was admitted as a barrister and solicitor in 1968.

In 1969 Mr Whiting married Susan Barron, and they had four children. He practised in Whangārei, becoming a partner at Connell Rishworth Gerard in 1972. He specialised in civil and commercial litigation, criminal jury trials, town planning and resource management.

In an interview with NZ Lawyer magazine in 2014, Heaney and Co partner Frana Divich recalled being mentored by Mr Whiting when she was a new lawyer at Connell Rishworth Gerard: "I remember him saying something like this to me when I was 22 years old and it has stuck with me: 'If it seems unjust then you will have trouble persuading a judge of the rightness of it – even if there is a good technical argument.  Ultimately the law is about justice'.  Gordon would have said it more eloquently than I have said it.  Experience has taught me that he was absolutely right."

Active in law society affairs, Mr Whiting was a Council member of the Auckland District Law Society from 1989 to 1992 and a member of the Disciplinary Committee from 1992 to 1997.

He also had a wide involvement in community affairs, being legal advisor for Lifeline from 1981 to 1987, and involved in the management of St John's Ambulance, Northland Rescue Helicopters and a member of the Marriage Guidance Council from 1978 to 1988. His interest in rugby saw him involved as a rugby referee from 1973 to 1989, a member of the Northland Rugby Union, and serving on the Judicial Appeals Committee of the New Zealand Rugby Union.

In July 1997 he was appointed as a District Court and Environment Judge. He was sworn in at Whangārei District Court on 15 August 1997 and sat in the Environment Court in Auckland from 18 August 1997.

In his time as a judge he presided over a number of significant and varied resource management cases, with many not only having economic impacts but also involving conflicting uses of public and private interests.  He chaired the Boards of Inquiry for the New Zealand King Salmon, the Te Mihi Geothermal Power Station and the Tauhara II Geothermal Power Station applications.

His recognition of the importance of the specialised work he was involved in as an Environment Court Judge is shown in a paper he prepared in 2008, "Environmental Law and the Expert Witness". He began by stating:

"As a Judge of the Environment Court for the past 11 years, I have worked every day at the coalface of environmental law. Environmental law is not just the problem of lawyers and social scientists. Environmental decision-making, if it is to achieve an appropriate environmental outcome, needs input from a wide range of intellectual disciplines, including accountancy, anthropology, biochemistry, chemistry, design, economics, the engineering disciplines, geography, geology, information science, law, marketing, medicine, physics, planning, psychology, surveying, tourism, and zoology. In fact, I can not think of a discipline that does not have a role to play."

Following his retirement from the bench in 2012, Mr Whiting was kept very active in environmental inquiries. He was appointed in August 2013 to chair an independent inquiry into the Basin Reserve bridge proposal. In January 2015 he was appointed chair of a four-person independent panel to hear the application from the Rena owners for a resource consent to leave part of the wreck on Astrolabe Reef (Otaiti), and in May 2015 he was chair of a three-person panel to consider proposed changes to the Waitaki catchment water allocation regional plan. In March 2017 he chaired an independent panel to consider a regional council plan to reduce nutrient runoff into Lake Rotorua. Later in 2017 he was appointed to chair the independent hearing commissioners for an application by Stevenson Mining Ltd for resource consents for the Te Kuha Mine project.

Last updated on the 6th December 2018