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Edgar Stanley James Crutchley QSO, 1917 - 2014

By Geoff Adlam

Edgar Crutchley died at Lower Hutt on 11 August 2014 aged 96. His legal career culminated in 16 years as a Stipendiary Magistrate based in Christchurch, where he was known for his courtesy and professional demeanour.

Following early retirement for health reasons he continued to give guidance and the benefit of his knowledge and experience to New Zealand’s justices of the peace.

Born in Wanganui on 20 August 1917, Mr Crutchley attended Wanganui Technical College and St Patrick’s College (Silverstream) and began to study law at Victoria University of Wellington.

While at university he was active in amateur dramatics and was a keen swimmer and rower. He won the Butterworths Prize in Roman Law in 1939 but the Second World War intervened before he had completed his degree. He joined the Fourth Reinforcements of the New Zealand Expeditionary Force in September 1940 and served in the Army for four years, attaining the rank of Lance Sergeant.

On his return Mr Crutchley resumed his law studies and graduated LLB in 1947. Shortly after, in 1948, he married Joan Sheehan. The couple were to have six daughters.

Edgar Crutchley began full legal practice in 1949 when he joined the Nelson firm Ralfe, Ralfe and Boyle. He was appointed to the partnership after a few years, with the firm becoming Ralfe, Ralfe and Crutchley (it is now known as Knapps). He focused on litigation and appeared as counsel in 10 cases which were reported in the New Zealand Law Reports.

His standing in the profession was recognised when he was appointed a Stipendiary Magistrate on 14 March 1960 at the relatively young age of 42. He was initially based in Invercargill before moving to Christchurch in 1961.

New Zealand Law Society Canterbury-Westland branch Manager Malcolm Ellis recalls that when he started work at the Christchurch Magistrates’ Court in 1968 Mr Crutchley was senior Magistrate. He says “proper” would be a good way of describing Mr Crutchley’s demeanour on the bench.

“In those days Friday mornings were adoption days and all the parents would line up in the waiting room with their new baby awaiting the call by the clerk to be escorted through to the Magistrate’s Chambers to meet the Magistrate for a chat before the interim adoption was made,” he says.

“Mr Crutchley once told me that of all the tasks of the Magistrate, this was the most important, and for him personally the most enjoyable. On the bench he was ‘proper’ and without emotion, but on adoption day the real gentleman shone through.”

Mr Crutchley’s daughter Nicola, herself a member of the legal profession, remembers often being approached by older court staff around the country who would ask if they could be remembered to her father.

“They would talk to me about the support and mentoring he had given them,” she says. “He came across as an old fashioned gentleman.”

Ms Crutchley says she was once asked by a staff member of one of the courts if she wanted to know what her father’s nickname was. Knowing from her own experience how direct some of the appellations given to those on the bench could be, she hesitatingly agreed.

“He was known to the staff throughout Christchurch as ‘Daddy’,” she says, finding it an apt and affectionate description of someone who she was always able to turn to for advice and guidance in her own legal career.

“He was a true gentleman. He loved the law, he loved the work. He was always very generous with his time and advice.”

Mr Crutchley was New Zealand’s senior magistrate when he resigned from the bench on 10 May 1977 aged only 59. This was due to ill health. Nicola Crutchley says part of the reason was increasing deafness, and his war service with the artillery had been a major contributing factor.

On his departure from the bench Mr Crutchley found work where he could continue to make a significant input into the profession he loved. He became closely involved with providing judicial training materials and information through the New Zealand Technical Correspondence Institute (now the Open Polytechnic) for Justice of the Peace associations around the country.

As principal tutor for the courses which began in 1977, he was active in the development and delivery of training courses for JPs.

The Royal Federation of New Zealand Justices' Association Inc notes the comments of a Past President on Mr Crutchley's involvement: "He marked my TCI papers for the 15 papers covering the initial and advanced certificates. Always supportive and encouraging in his written comments. A fine servant of and for Justices of the Peace."

His expertise in the procedures of the Magistrates' Courts (which became District Courts in 1980) was also reflected with his collaboration with Herbert Jenner Wily to publish the new eighth edition of Wily and Crutchley's District Courts Practice with Butterworths in 1980 (now District Courts Practice (Civil)).

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Last updated on the 16th October 2018