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Hon Anthony Arthur Travers (Tony) Ellis, 1934 - 2007

The sudden death in July of the Hon Justice Anthony Arthur Travers Ellis QC at the age of 72 saddened all in the profession.

Described by Wellington District Law Society President Richard Fowler as "...a much loved former colleague and Judge", Justice Ellis had a dis­tinguished legal career.

He was admitted in 1960 after graduating n law from Victoria University of Wellmgton, also completing an arts degree in which he majored in mathematics.

His first legal job was as a law clerk in Hogg Gillespie Carter and Oakley. He went on .to work for Martin & Hurley, (which became Martin Evans-Scott and Hurley) and Tony Ellis joined the partner­ ship. This firm merged with Brandon Ward and eventually became Brandons where Tony remained a partner until 1979.

He became a member of the Council of the Wellington District Law Society in 1973 and served on a number of commit­tees. He was WDLS President in 1980 and was also a Vice-President of the New Zea­land Law Society.

He practised as a barrister sole from 1979 and was appointed as a Queen's Counsel in 1981. In 1985 he was appointed to the High Court Bench.

After his retirement as a High Court Judge in 2003 he was appointed as the first chairperson of the restructured Parole Board following the Parole Act 2002. He was also President of the Electoral Commission and a member of the New Zealand Sports Drug Agency. He sat from time to time on the Courts of Appeal of Fiji and Samoa, and was involved in cases in the former until just before his death.

In his distinguished judicial career spanning 18 years Justice Ellis was judge in a number of high-profile cases including the Lundy murder case, and the Keith Ramstead case, the surgeon charged with manslaughter of three patients in 1998.

He sat on the landmark 1994 case be­tween Clear and Telecom that examined the proposition that Telecom was being uncompetitive over access to the local tel­ephone network. The decision was over­ turned by the Court of Appeal, and then reinstated in the Privy Council.

In her eulogy the Chief Justice, the Rt Hon Dame Sian Elias, recalled his human­ity and compassion: "Tony never forgot in judging what human frailty is. He was caring, and wise in his judgments.

"He was not someone who came to de­ cisions with fmrnwed brow although he worked hard to come to the right result and was always well prepared. He was a shrewd judge of people, because he was a close observer of humankind. Because Tony was modest and disliked pretension and because he had the sure instinct for people and for law which made it easy for him to jump to the right result, it was not, I think, always sufficiently appreciated how truly clever he was and what a fine judge.

"To his colleages on the bench he was the man who made afternoon team something to look forward to. He managed to be affirm­ ing without any condescension. He lifted the spirits of those who worked with him."

Complementing a career of intellectual challenge and vigorous courtroom debate, Hon Tony Ellis was also a skilled engineer and builder. He built or restored several houses and for most of his adult life was passionate about vintage cars.

In an interview for Council Brief in 2005 he spoke of  "Putting cars together ..." "I have always enjoyed crafts such as metalwork and woodwork, and these helped in the rebuilding of the cars ..." He had a 1927 Bugatti, "...the touring version of the famous Type 35, a fast car in its day ...", and a replica 1929 two-seater Riley: "I put in a new chassis, though most of it is authentic ..." He also cared for his father's 1928 Rolls Royce, in the family's hands for 50 years.

Tony Ellis was a great lover of the New Zealand bush and he his wife Vicky had walked most of the great New Zealand tracks. He was for six years president of the Royal Forest and Bird Society.

He will be remembered by practitioners as a fine and wise judge, a witty and affable companion, and a well-read man of wide interests.

This obituary was published in the September 2007 issue of Council Brief, the monthly newsletter of the Wellington District Law Society.,

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Last updated on the 29th February 2016