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Judge Philip Evans, 1947 - 1997

by Leslie Evans

Judge Philip Evans died on 6 August 1997, aged 50 years. Judge Evans was resident at the Rotorua District Court. When off the bench he exercised a passion for aviation.

Philip Evans had practised law in Wellington. As a partner at Gault Mitchell & Co he was prominent in matters to do with aviation and law – being the lawyer for the Air Services Licensing Authority and also well versed in the many matters to do with aero club affairs such as aircraft financing, syndication, and insurance. He was a founding committee member of the Aviation Law Association, and a respected speaker at the conferences of the Aviation Industry Association, the principal trade association.

With the Civil Aviation Act 1990 came a change in air transport regulation and the Air Services Licensing Authority  was no more. Going then from bar to bench did not take too long to consider – even though it meant moving from Wellington. The prospect of taking a young family to Rotorua was an attraction on its own.

Whether sitting in Rotorua, or on circuit, the judge determined to continue his interest in aviation. The publication in 1996 of the new Brooker’s looseleaf text Aviation Law under his editorship (and considerable authorship) is ample evidence of his success at that. In addition he had before him a number of significant aviation cases including Attorney-General v Geyserland Airways Ltd [1994] DCR 533 (over payment of civil aviation charges), and Airways Corporation of New Zealand Ltd v Geyserland Airways Ltd [1994] DCR 1037 (about air traffic control charges – on appeal [1996] 1 NZLR 116). The “Geyserland cases” up to Sutherland v Civil Aviation Authority as yet unreported, High Court at Rotorua, AP 15/97, 4 June 1997, Fisher J) eventually settled the precise legal nature of the charges of the Airways Corporation – a matter of importance not just in aviation but across the State Owned Enterprises.

The changing regulation of transport in New Zealand has meant that many of the regulatory concepts are now common to the various modes – air, land and sea. So Judge Evans found himself increasingly at home in cases such as a 1996 defended Health and Safety in Employment Act 1992 prosecution against Tranzrail. And most recently he was following the "Whale Watch” series of cases through the High Court and Court of Appeal – as cases central to the functioning of the Transport Accident Investigation Commission with its now wider jurisdiction over aviation, marine, and rail accidents.

His early death is the loss of a judge for our courts, and of a respected author for aviation law. Even more it is a blow for his family – his wife Pamela, and children Victoria, Tom, Bart, and Jonathan.

This obituary was first published in LawTalk 484, 1 September 1997, page 2.

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Last updated on the 20th June 2016