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Judge Martin John Beattie, 1944 - 2018

By Nick Butcher

Former District Court Judge Martin Beattie died in Auckland on 4 February 2017, aged 74.

He was appointed as a District Court Judge in civil and criminal jurisdictions in August 1991 and assigned to Whangarei. He  retired in January 2014 when he turned 70.

Martin  Beattie was born 17 January 1944 and educated at Westlake High School. He went on to study law at Auckland University. He was also admitted to the bar in Victoria, Australia.

He joined Auckland law firm Wilson, Henry, Sinclair and Martin where he had been working as a clerk while studying in the early 1960s. He became a partner in 1971.

Judge Beattie spent the later stages of his career sitting in the District Court on Accident Compensation Appeals.

The change of career direction came about after he was acquitted in August 1997 on various dishonesty charges totalling $10,000 following a High Court jury trial.

The case against Judge Beattie was never forgotten throughout the legal community. It featured extensively in the New Zealand Law Society magazine LawTalk in 1997, including the reasons as to why the Law Society Board decided not to apply to the High Court to have Judge Beattie struck off the roll of barristers and solicitors.

The advice at the time was that section 92 of the Law Practitioners Act 1982 should not be interpreted as applying to judges in office.

There were also calls for Judge Beattie to voluntarily quit. It would be correct to say that you still don’t have to look too far to find an opinion on Judge Beattie.

From LawTalk 489, 17 November 1997 by then Law Society President Ian Haynes:

“Members of the Law Society have been greatly troubled by this issue as has the general public. The Society is persuaded however, that it must uphold the principle of the independence of the judiciary. That principle has been well-established since the Act of Settlement in 1701.”

Mr Haynes noted that section 7(1) of the District Courts Act provides that district court judges can be removed  “for inability or misbehaviour” by the Governor-General. That power can be exercised only on the advice of the responsible Minister who is the Minister of Justice. Acting on legal advice, the Minister of Justice found that Judge Beattie’s conduct did not amount to misbehaviour and according he had not advised the Governor-General to remove the judge.

“Judge Beattie remains on the roll of barristers and solicitors but he is a judge and not a practising lawyer.”

“Therefore, to strike him off the roll of barristers and solicitors will not, of itself, disqualify Judge Beattie from remaining in judicial office,” President Ian Haynes told LawTalk back in 1997.

Recent mainstream media articles marking his death again focused on what was seen as a major blemish in Judge Beattie’s career, largely ignoring the contribution he made to the District Court and ACC appeals.

One could argue that perhaps Judge Beattie’s dogged determination to remain a member of the judiciary was the ACC’s gain.

While he remained on the District Court as a District Court Judge, he was confined to doing ACC District Court appeals.

Many viewed this as a punishment, but testimony from people that worked before Judge Beattie would suggest that he took on that work with vigour and integrity.

He also on occasion did ACC Appeal Tribunal work, which is separate to the ACC District Court Appeals.

Wellington firm, John Miller Law are experts in Accident Compensation claims. Their lawyers have represented thousands of claimants.

Principal John Miller asked his staff about their experiences before Judge Beattie.

“The staff say that he was always very pleasant to counsel and clients. He showed compassion in many of his ACC decisions which we still quote regularly in current cases before the District and High Court,” Mr Miller says.

Alistair Barnett is on the Law Society’s ACC Committee and represented the ACC at tribunal hearings over many years.

He didn’t know Judge Beattie on a personal level.

“He was a fair Judge, direct but above all I thought he was a hard worker, well prepared, very efficient and certainly turned out his decisions in a timely way and his decisions stood up well on appeal,” he says.

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Last updated on the 15th February 2018