Hon Sir Alan Douglas Holland, 1929 - 2014
By Peter Whiteside QC
Alan Holland spent the last four years of World War Two boarding at Waitaki Boys’ High School. He was persuaded by that school’s legendary rector, Frank Milner, that as he was such a good talker he ought to be a lawyer rather than a schoolteacher.
Alan’s father, Clarry, was not only a cousin of Sir Sidney Holland, New Zealand’s Prime Minister from 1949-1947 but also a leading chartered accountant in Christchurch. After Alan completed a term of full-time legal studies in 1946, his father arranged for Alan to clerk for Alec Haslam, an outstanding black letter lawyer and later a Supreme Court judge, until Alan completed his law degree at Canterbury and was admitted in 1951.
It might be thought by those senior practitioners who remember both men, that whatever faults and foibles Alan had as a practitioner and judge could have been the result of observing Haslam J in practice.
Alan was very proud of working as deck crew on a liner to get to London where he spent two years doing legal work before returning in 1953 to the prominent Wellington firm of Leicester, Rainey & McCarthy. There he gained superb litigation experience working primarily for Leicester who also became a Supreme Court judge.
In 1956 Alan returned to Christchurch and set up in practice on his own as a barrister and solicitor. He did a number of cases as junior to Wynn Williams’ then senior litigation lawyer, Terence Gresson. As luck would have it, Gresson was appointed a Supreme Court judge at the end of 1956 and Alan took his place as a partner in Wynn Williams on 1 December 1956.
There Alan remained as a partner until his appointment as a Supreme Court Judge on 25 October 1978. Alan was an extremely effective and hard-working advocate who appeared as counsel in 74 cases reported in the New Zealand Law Reports in the 25 years he practised.
Alan did not have outstanding intellect but he was blessed with a sound knowledge of the law and good judgement. He had a wide litigation practice – criminal law (both defence and then later on the Crown Panel), matrimonial law, personal injury claims (largely instructed by unions for injured workers) and a broad range of civil work.
In addition Alan had a loyal group of clients for whom he did all their legal work and enjoyed being a director of a number of companies including Credit Services Investments Ltd, a well-known finance company in the 1970s.
As an advocate, Alan was fearless. He delivered a highly provocative paper at the 1975 triennial Law Conference outlining the reforms he saw as essential for the New Zealand courts. His theme was the need for much greater efficiency in the justice system and he stridently criticised the faults that he saw.
One of the assigned commentators was a young Auckland barrister, Graham Hubble who later became a District Court Judge. He commenced his remarks thus:
“I first met Mr Holland about three days ago, but before I met him I asked a Wellington lawyer if he knew him and he said, ‘Yes. He is a stirrer.’ I asked an Auckland lawyer if he knew Mr Holland and he said, ‘Yes. He loves a fight’.” These descriptions were apt throughout Alan’s legal career including when he was on the bench.
I was fortunate enough to work for Alan for the first four years of my legal career at Wynn Williams and then with him as a junior partner for four years before he went to the bench. Alan was an outstanding mentor and extremely loyal and fair. In 1977 in a difficult partner share reallocation discussion, it was Alan who gave way and reduced his partnership share for the greater good of the partnership.
An example of Alan’s propriety and integrity occurred when Andrew Young came to work for the firm in 1972 from the City Council. Alan forbade Andrew from taking Council instructions away from its then solicitors, Weston Ward and Lascelles.
At a time when he might well have been eying up the prospects of becoming a judge and knew only too well the key role of the then Chief Justice, Sir Richard Wild, in making judicial appointments, Alan, putting the interests of the profession first as President of the Canterbury District Law Society in 1973 went straight to the Attorney-General to advocate for a third Supreme Court judge to be appointed in Christchurch.
This was because the two incumbents were overworked and the ready list was ballooning out. Wild CJ was furious that Holland had gone directly to the Attorney-General to try and outmanoeuvre him. While Christchurch got a third judge, the prospect of Alan’s appointment to the Supreme Court bench was eliminated until Sir Richard had to resign because of ill-health in early 1978. Sir Ronald Davison was appointed Chief Justice and lo and behold, Alan was appointed within the year. Alan acknowledged in an interview with Canterbury Tales on his retirement that he had a lot of luck in his career.
As was the custom at that time, Holland J had to leave Christchurch and sit in Auckland for four years before returning to his home city where he sat until he retired prematurely but after serving 16 years on 4 November 1994.
Back in Christchurch in 1983, Holland J soon became effectively Executive Judge in charge of what was now the High Court’s business throughout the South Island apart from Nelson and Blenheim. He held this role for more years than he should have because he firmly believed he could do it better than his colleagues.
Forget all the modern theories of case management; it was never so easy to get a fixture in the Christchurch High Court as from the mid-1980s when Alan Holland and Malcolm Ellis, then Deputy Registrar at the High Court, operated the blue diary for fixtures.
Counsel simply filed their ready list letter and sat in Ellis’ office with the hand-written diary to get a fixture only weeks thereafter. This efficient dispatch of the High Court work for most of the South Island, resonant of his 1975 conference paper, was one of Holland J’s greatest achievements.
Holland J sitting in court was driven by the desire to get the hearing moving and the judgment delivered. As a first instance judge he firmly believed all the litigants before him wanted was an answer and the losing party could always appeal. Holland J was keen on an oral judgment and if his decision was reserved, the reserved decision would normally be delivered within a month. He also never shirked cases. Particularly towards the end of his judicial career, because of his efficiency drive, Holland J could be very impatient with counsel and too hasty to judgment.
There was a very compassionate side to Holland J, the sentencing judge. He was a very sound judge of character and would always take a lenient approach on sentencing if he thought the accused worthy of a second chance.
Alan was very devoted to his family. His wife, Felicity, fully supported Alan’s legal career and they were both wonderful hosts for gatherings of the Canterbury legal profession at their McDougall Avenue home. Alan was also extremely proud of their son John’s achievements as a commercial lawyer and now partner in Chapman Tripp.
Despite his sometimes brusque manner, Alan was a gentleman with old-fashioned values and manners. When I saw him for the last time in his rest home last year and the onset of dementia was quite evident, his last words to me were “Excuse me, but can you see yourself out.”
Alan Holland’s contribution to the law, particularly in Christchurch in the second half of the twentieth century, was truly signicant.
Sir Alan Holland died in Christchurch on 3 June 2014 aged 84.
This obituary was first published in Canterbury Tales, July 2014, page 6.
Tribute from the Chief Justice, Rt Hon Dame Sian Elias
The judiciary notes with considerable sadness the passing of one of its stalwart members and a former champion of the Canterbury Bar in the late Sir Alan Holland. Sir Alan was a judge of the then Supreme Court (now the High Court) from his appointment in 1978 until his retirement in 1994. He continued to serve with an Acting Warrant until 2001.
Sir Alan had expressed the wish that at his passing there should be no official “fuss”, which is also the wishes of his family. It is in accordance with those wishes that there will be no memorial sitting.
However it is fitting that on behalf of the judiciary I should offer a few words of acknowledgment and tribute to a distinguished former colleague.
A South Islander by background, Sir Alan undertook his legal training after the Second World War at Canterbury University, gained professional experience in London and began his rise up the legal ladder in New Zealand while working for the Wellington firm of Leicester Rainey McCarthy, which saw him in the professional company of future judges in Wilfrid Leicester and Thaddeus McCarthy.
After two years, Sir Alan set up his own practice, and then joined the leading Christchurch firm of Wynn Williams and Co in 1956.
In his 22 years in private practice Sir Alan showed qualities of great determination and as an advocate served his clients fearlessly. His dedication to the law extended to serving with the Canterbury Law Society, the New Zealand Law Society, the Council of legal Education, and as a lecturer in the Canterbury University Law Faculty throughout this time.
Sir Alan’s appointment to the bench ushered in a new phase in what was an already distinguished career.
He brought many of the qualities to the bench that had made him a formidable advocate, and was well known for imposing the rigour of his own professional standards on counsel. Although some would have differed with his at times direct approach he was widely respected, both by his colleagues and the Bar.
Many young counsel (among whom the Chief Justice includes herself) benefited greatly from his guidance and enjoyed his company greatly. The standing of the South Island Courts can in part be attributed to the qualities that he unstintingly brought to his own work and required of others.
In addition to his service to the New Zealand judiciary, Sir Alan also served periodically on the bench of the Fiji Court of Appeal. His contribution throughout a lengthy career has been considerable. He has also left close and loyal friends amongst those with whom he worked.
This tribute was first published in Canterbury Tales, July 2014, page 7.
Last updated on the 15th August 2014