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John Haigh QC, 1947 - 2012

By Geoff Adlam

Leading Queen's Counsel John Haigh died suddenly in Auckland on 21 April 2012. He was aged 65.

He was the first Queen’s Counsel to specialise in employment law, and he also developed an extensive criminal practice. Recently he had been involved in the Royal Commission of Inquiry into the Pike River Mining Disaster and the Ports of Auckland industrial dispute.

Mr Haigh followed his father into law. Frank Haigh was a well-known advocate of social justice, and also represented unions, including during the 1951 waterfront strike.

John Haigh graduated with a law degree from the University of Auckland. He was admitted as a barrister and solicitor of the High Court on 18 December 1970 and subsequently became a partner in Haigh Lyon and Co. He commenced practice as a barrister sole in 1984 and was appointed Queen’s Counsel on 26 May 1993.

City Chambers colleague and friend Paul Wicks says Mr Haigh was one of the most tremendous people he knew.

“He had a selfless approach to any client that he acted for and his sense of justice was enormous. He was a great humanitarian; he loved all those around him, particularly his family.

“In the profession, he offered so much support and mentoring to those around him. John selflessly gave when he was extraordinarily busy. He was always prepared to take on anyone’s issues because he thought they deserved justice.

“John was very grounded; he was not a person of pomposity or self-importance. He was very thorough and would put more time than was needed to every case big or small, he provided the same energy to everything,” Mr Wick says.

Mr Haigh had extensive experience in the High Court and Court of Appeal in New Zealand as well as four appearances in the Privy Council in London.

He acted for numerous unions throughout what he described as the industrial relations “heydays” and appeared in various Royal Commissions of Inquiry, including the Parnell Fumes affair, the Marsden Point industrial disputes and, more recently, the Pike River mining disaster.

Mr Haigh worked on some of New Zealand's most high-profile legal cases, among them securing an acquittal for rape-accused assistant police commissioner Clint Rickards. He also represented Labour minister David Benson-Pope, when he was being investigated over allegations that he had once forced a school pupil to sit with a tennis ball in his mouth.

His recent cases included work on the Pike River mining disaster inquiry and the Ports of Auckland industrial dispute.

New Zealand Law Society President Jonathan Temm says he is shocked and deeply saddened to hear of Mr Haigh’s death.

"He was well regarded by the legal profession and judiciary. John Haigh was a barrister of the highest calibre. He was a resolute and capable counsel."

Mr Temm says the death of Mr Haigh is a huge loss and leaves a big gap in the senior ranks of the profession.

"Our thoughts are with his wife Sue and family."

Mr Haigh was a former member of the Auckland Crown Solicitors Prosecution Panel, Director of the Environmental Health and Forensic Science Crown Research Institute and member of the New Zealand Law Society’s Criminal Law Committee.

By Geoff Adlam, New Zealand Law Society. 

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Last updated on the 25th June 2019