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Sir David Smith, 1888 - 1982

Sir David Smith, former Supreme Court judge, who was outstanding among New Zealand judges for his wide range of interests, died in Wellington on 29 December 1982.

At the comparatively early age of 40, Sir David was appointed to the Supreme Court bench. He was the second-youngest judge appointed to this position in New Zealand. Sir David remained on the bench for 20 years, and was temporarily reappointed from 1949 to 1950. In 1948, he was knighted.

During his earlier legal career, Sir David specialised in company law and in Māori land law.

He was born in Dunedin in 1888 amd educated at Southland Boys' High School, Wellington College, and Victoria University College, where he graduated LLM in 1913.

Sir David joined the Wellington firm of Findlay Dalziell and Coy as a law clerk in 1907. His early law clerking days there were described by Sir David in an article recently published in Council Brief. He recalled his conditions of work, the skills he learnt, and wrote ... "I wanted to succeed and if there was work to be done it did not occur to me that hours of work mattered or that there was such a thing as overtime."

Sir David's diligence in the field of law is endorsed in a subsequent Council Brief article written by Mr FJ Foot who became a partner of the firm after Sir David was appointed to the bench.

Active in many fields, Sir David wrote articles on Wellington and New Zealand legal history, and contributed significantly to a book about the history of the New Zealand legal profession entitled The Portrait of a Profession.

Other fields that he devoted to his services to were sports, debating and administration. He was the last Chancellor of the University of New Zealand, a university representative in tennis and athletics, and won the Plunket medal for debating in 1909.

He served overseas with the Wellington Infantry Regiment in 1917-18 and took an active part in the administration of the New Zealand Returned Services Association when he returned. He was vice-president and chairman of the executive between 1920 and 1924. Also, he was a member of the executive of the New Zealand Alliance and a president of the Wellington Rotary Club.

In 1933 he was appointed by the United States Government as the American non-national member of the international commission provided for in the treaty of 1914 to advance peace between the two countries.

He was chairman of a royal commission to investigate Native Affairs in 1934. In 1945-46 he was chairman of the royal commission of licensing and of the New Zealand Board of Trade in 1950-59.

He was on the board of the US Educational Foundation in New Zealand, and on the council of Victoria University College from 1939 to 1945. He became the chancellor of the New Zealand University in 1945. An honorary DCL Oxford was conferred on him in 1948 for his contribution to university education.

Sir David is survived by his daughter, Wellington practitioner Miss Shirley Smith, and his son, Dr Allan Smith.

This was first published on page 3 of the February 1983 issue of Council Brief, the monthly newsletter of the Wellington District Law Society.

Last updated on the 16th October 2018