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Justice Daniel Paul Neazor CNZN, QC, 1933 - 2016

By Nick Butcher

The Honourable Daniel Paul Neazor QC died on 8 October 2016, just one month before his 83rd birthday.

More commonly known as Paul Neazor, the former High Court Judge is remembered as being highly driven and dedicated to his legal career but also as a family man who never missed the evening dinner, no matter how important a case was.

“Whenever Dad was working on an extremely urgent or extremely difficult case, we would hardly see him, except at dinner time. He would always take time out, come home and have dinner with us, catch up on everyone’s day and then take a taxi back into town where he might work on until one in the morning. And he’d come home quietly, grab 4 hours sleep and start over again the next day, but he never missed dinner,” says his son, Paul Neazor.

His father had no interest in driving and his licence had most likely expired after a stint in the army. And if it wasn’t taxis, his preferred mode of transport was trains, buses or his own two feet.

“He was once described in the Evening Post newspaper many years ago as the most famous commuter of the Khandallah bus route and Johnsonville train service," his son says.

Then there’s the story of the Neazor coffee cup often seen perched on the letterbox outside the family home, with the remnants of the morning brew staining the edge.

“Dad would have his coffee as he waited for the bus to come down the hill in the morning and then leave it there. Eventually someone would bring it back into the kitchen but nobody walking past ever took his cup. Everybody knew whose cup it was,” he says.

Elizabeth Neazor was the only one of his five children to become a lawyer. Paul junior has been a successful sports journalist for many years, and his brother was a career soldier turned paramedic. His other sisters Mary and Catherine are both language experts.

"There was never any pressure on us. Dad told us to be what we wanted to be,” Paul junior says.

Justice Paul Neazor was born in Lower Hutt in 1933 and married Mary Hutchins in 1959. He was educated at St Patrick’s College and later gained his Master of Laws (LLM) at Victoria University of Wellington.

Mr Neazor largely plied his legal trade as a public servant for Government organisations including the Public Trust Office and as a solicitor for New Zealand Railways back in the post-World War II 1950s and early 60s. He was a Crown Counsel from 1961 to 1980, before being appointed Solicitor-General at the turn of that decade.

Most people have a few odd stories locked away only to be told after they’ve left the room, and this one is of a man who was not only a high profile lawyer but also a man who cared about his community - including the all-important neighbourhood refuse collection.

“When I was about 10, Dad was involved in the Ngaio Progressive Association, a residential group looking out for the interests of the suburb. Amongst other things they used to organise the inorganic rubbish collection. It covered a really wide area and Dad would write up all of the flyers and get them circulating. Of course the Council does that job now, but back in the day Dad would let us children come along on the rubbish truck. He put us to work,” his son Paul says.

Paul Neazor senior had his hopes, dreams and fears like every man as his son recalls. A recurring image was the Cuban missile crisis when the world was on the brink of nuclear war between the USA and the former Soviet Union.

“I must have been about 30 when he told me of one that haunted him when he was about the age I was then, except he was a recently married man with a wife and two infant children. It was the early 1960s, a scary time for the world. He told me that he had this nightmare where he saw a silver speck high in the sky and then had that awful moment of realisation that the plane had dropped its cargo. And then there was a blinding flash … I never had to live with anything like that. And he never let on when we were young about this fear,” he says.

The Attorney-General, Christopher Finlayson QC, is a close friend of the Neazor family. They grew up together and the families have a connection lasting over half a century.

“I met the late judge in the early 1970s when we were both on the parish council of Saint Benedict’s in Khandallah and the Neazor boys and myself all went through some of the same schools together,” he says.

Mr Finlayson says Justice Neazor’s influence on him led to him studying law.

“He was an inspiration. I can recall talking to him about whether to pursue legal studies and I started at Victoria University in 1975 and during that period Paul was Crown Counsel, then became Solicitor-General when Justice Savage went on the bench. It’s quite incredible when you look back at the law reports of that period and the number of big cases that he was involved in on behalf of the Crown.

Some of those cases included the Dawn Raids of the 1970s when Pacific Island overstayers were targeted by authorities.

And the Samoan citizenship situation when the Privy Council granted New Zealand citizenship to Western Samoans born since 1924. The Government challenged this and was accused of betrayal and racism. It all stemmed from Western Samoa having been a German outpost until the First World War broke out.

As Paul Neazor junior remembers when conducting research for his book on Samoan rugby.

“The then Prime Minister of Western Samoa, now Head of State, Tupua Tamasese Tupuola Tufuga Efi, told me he remembered Dad from those days. 'Tell him it was business, and we understand’, he said. 

There was also the Clyde Dam and other cases where while he may not have appeared on behalf of the Crown, he was still deeply involved from the belly of the case.

Mr Finlayson remembers Judge Neazor as “never bothered about driving” and says there is an old story that is still talked about where the Prime Minister at the time, Norman Kirk, sent a car out to pick up Paul Neazor when he urgently needed legal counsel about a Government matter.

Paul Neazor junior has a similar story.

“I do remember getting chauffeured to my Onslow Cricket Club prize-giving one year in a Government car - it had come to take my parents to some party somewhere but they weren't ready just then, and the driver asked if I needed a lift to wherever I was off to (after talking to Dad). So I was delivered to our (fancy dress) do and told to wait in the car until the appropriate moment ... and was given the full honours, door opened, 'Have a good evening sir' and the rest. Everyone thought it funny except the arrivals at the do, who were rather noted social climbers. Hilarious,” he says.

Material goods were not something Justice Neazor had much interest in.

“That’s why I think he was an inspiration to the profession. As a profession we are not known for humility or for disdaining material goods and Paul Neazor showed what it was like to be a good lawyer and servant of the law who served the people well as Crown Counsel, Solicitor-General, High Court Judge, Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security, yet he was never impressed by status which is very refreshing when so often you see the opposite,” Mr Finlayson says.

And as a High Court Judge he never lost his sense of empathy and humanity.

“I remember many years ago. I had just had a back operation and was walking along Lambton Quay and Justice Neazor marches across the road and asks me how my back was, as he had heard that I hadn’t been very well. Believe me, High Court Judges don’t normally mix with junior solicitors, or cross the road to talk to them. He was wonderfully human and another time when I was called to the inner bar, he phoned me and says 'you can have my gown if you like',” he says.

There’s another candid story of when Paul Neazor was responsible for Security and Intelligence Service matters, where despite the serious nature of his role, he was also able to display wit and humour and laugh at himself.

“Paul had a special steel safe in his office but he never used it. And when someone remonstrated with him over this he said look at my office, do you think any Soviet agent could find anything in here?,” he says.

Sir Geoffrey Palmer has been practising law for over half a century and there are not too many prominent lawyers that he hasn’t rubbed legal shoulders with at some point.

“He was the Solicitor-General for most of the time I was the Attorney-General. I was the one who recommended he be made a judge of the High Court too,” he says.

Sir Geoffrey knew Paul Neazor as a lawyer long before he entered politics.

“He had a LLM and became somewhat of an expert on Workers Compensation Law as it was known in those days from his work as a solicitor for New Zealand Railways and his investigations into accidents on the railways. Along with Ian Campbell he was a co-author of a book on the subject. So I knew his work from having done personal injury law myself and I had to do workers compensation cases as well,” he says.

As Solicitor-General, Sir Geoffrey remembers him as being meticulous in his work.

“I trusted him enormously. He served the Crown and the state for many years and was a very successful trial judge too but was very reluctant to go on the bench, it took about a year to persuade him. He thought he had the best legal job in the country as Solicitor-General of New Zealand and he probably did.

"He always walked everywhere, he never drove a car and if you wanted to chat with Paul, you’d always see him on Lambton Quay, smoking his pipe, just a very good person to deal with and I never had a cross word with him,” he says.

Judge Neazor was also the Wellington Law Society President in 1985 and Vice-President of the New Zealand Law Society in 1986 and 1988.

He was also Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security from 2004 to 2013. It would be fair to say his public service career was immense.

His work included a report into the Mega-upload case and the unlawful interception of communications of some people involved in the Kim Dotcom investigation.

Other career highlights include working on the 1975 William Sutch case when the economist, writer, public servant and diplomat was charged with spying when it was alleged that he had given sensitive information to Russian diplomat, Dimitri Razgovorov. The trial ended with a not guilty verdict but that outcome has long been debated by people involved in the case.

During that time Richard Savage CBE, QC was the Solicitor-General and Paul Neazor was his number two or right-hand legal man.

As Paul Neazor junior remembers, his father was a courageous man with a sense of humour right up until the end of his life.

That’s probably not surprising as Sir Geoffrey Palmer says, the Justice Paul Neazor he knew, always had a twinkle in his eye.

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Last updated on the 25th November 2016