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Judge Ian Albert Borrin, 1935 - 2016

By James Greenland

Ian Borrin will be remembered fondly by those closest to him as a humble, hardworking man who loved the law.

"He was always grateful for the opportunities it gave him to do work that was interesting and worthwhile," says David Goddard QC (Mr Borrin's first cousin once removed).

Judge Ian Borrin passed away on 23 March after a year-long battle with leukaemia. He was 81.

To Mr Goddard growing up, Judge Borrin was "Uncle Ian" - a wise and patient man, warm and approachable, who treated everyone around him with great respect – whether it was younger family members, legal colleagues or persons appearing before his bench in the District and Family Courts.

"Ian always listened, always took you seriously, always found something to say that put things in a positive and encouraging light," Mr Goddard said at his "uncle's" funeral service.

"And because he treated us with respect, we wanted to deserve that respect – he helped us be better people by treating us as if we were better people."

Many in the profession will also remember Judge Borrin as someone who cared about people and cared about the law, including New Zealand Law Society Executive Director Christine Grice who once regularly appeared before him in the Hamilton District Court.

"He was highly regarded by the local profession as a competent and caring judge," Ms Grice says.

To future generations of lawyers Judge Borrin's legacy will be associated with the legal research and scholarship foundation he established in his parents' name, which was announced following his death.

The Michael and Suzanne Borrin Foundation, administered by the Nikau Foundation as trustee, is funded by nearly $30 million set aside from Judge Borrin's estate. Its goal is development of legal education and research for the betterment of New Zealand's legal system.

Mr Goddard, who is on the Foundation's independent Grants and Scholarship committee, says his "uncle" had been quietly working on establishing the foundation for some years. But it was typical of Judge Borrin not to announce it publicly before his death.

"He didn't want to be at the centre of any fuss," Mr Goddard says.

"It was never about him.

"Ian's focus was on looking to the future. He wanted to contribute to the development of the law in New Zealand, and through the law to the wider New Zealand community.

"Ian believed that the rule of law is important for a flourishing New Zealand, and that you can't take it for granted. You need to be continuously examining and improving our law so it continues to be fit for purpose – to serve the community's broader aspirations."

Mr Goddard says Judge Borrin worked extraordinary hours, particularly as head of the Police Complaints Authority – a job from which he is said to have never taken a day's leave.

A memorial service held at The Pines, Wellington on 11 April was attended by several hundred people. Chief Justice Dame Sian Elias was not able to attend, but a statement was read on her behalf, in which she says Judge Borrin leaves a magnificent legacy that will be of lasting benefit.

"Ian Borrin has been a constant in the New Zealand legal community," Dame Sian says.

"He was an outstanding and highly respected Wellington practitioner and a very fine Judge of the District Court.

"Since his retirement he has remained fully engaged in the profession.

"Ian supported scholarship and legal publications, perhaps a neglected object of philanthropy in New Zealand, but he knew that the rule of law underpins any community and he believed very strongly in its importance for New Zealand.

"It is entirely consistent with the way in which this modest, kind and scholarly man lived his life that this parting gift is one that looks to the future with optimism.

"We will all greatly miss this good man."

Others from across the legal community have also paid their tributes to Judge Borrin.

Victoria University pro Vice-Chancellor and Dean of Law Professor Mark Hickford says: "Everyone at the Law School is saddened by the passing of Judge Borrin who has had a great presence on campus and been a great supporter of us.

"[His] very generous bequest will make a significant difference to those who study and research law throughout New Zealand."

Chris Moore, former President of the New Zealand Law Society, says: "Judge Ian Borrin was highly regarded by the legal profession during his career for his compassionate approach and generous spirit.

"The Law Society has no doubt that our legal and justice system will be measurably enhanced by this legacy. It is a fitting memorial to the man and his parents."

And Chris Milne, Chair of the Nikau Foundation which will administer the trust, says: "This is a marvellous legacy left by a man who has dedicated his life to law."

"Ian Borrin was a humble and gentle man of integrity, who sought no recognition for his generosity.

"He worked hard in his final months to ensure there was clarity in the Foundation's purpose, and that it would be a lasting tribute to the memory of his parents.

"The establishment of the Foundation is extraordinarily generous not only in its scale, but also in the impact such a legacy will have in perpetuity for the good of New Zealand."

Judge Borrin born on 13 February 1935 and raised in Wellington. He attended Wellington College and studied law at Victoria University. He continued to support the law school throughout his career. He was appointed to the District Court in 1983 and served as head of the Police Complaints Authority, the police watchdog organisation, retiring in 2007 aged 72 – the statutory retirement age for the Authority.

A keen traveller and skier, Judge Borrin had a rare combination of experience that qualified him for membership of the FIS Court, an international arbitration court established by the International Ski Federation that heard cases relating to ski racing at its highest level. For membership a person needed to have served in the judiciary of their homeland and served on the country's highest ski authority (Judge Borrin had served as President of the New Zealand Ski Association).

"He did it because he had the rare qualifications required to serve on the court, and wanted to make a contribution to a sport he loved," Mr Goddard says.

Judge Borrin is survived by his partner Jenny George.

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Last updated on the 22nd February 2018