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Justice Neil William Williamson, 1938 – 1996

by Brian Fay

Neil Williamson, High Court Judge, born 1938 at Christchurch, died 15 February 1996 at Auckland, aged 57.

Catholic, Husband, Father, Friend, Lawyer, Judge – a few words which give some insight into the man, Neil William Williamson, whose untimely death occurred recently.

Neil, as he was known and loved by all who knew him, grew up in Christchurch. After completing his secondary schooling at Xavier College he attended Canterbury University where he graduated LLB in 1961.

In material terms Neil came from a modest background but he had instilled in him by loving parents those qualities of integrity, compassion and humility which were his hallmark.

He was first employed by the firm now known as Raymond, Donnelly and Co, the Crown Solicitors Office in Christchurch, and later became a partner in that firm. He gained a wide experience in prosecuting for the Crown and was fortunate to act as Junior Counsel for the late Sir Peter Mahon and Sir Clinton Roper whom he followed as Crown Solicitor on his appointment in 1968 at a comparatively young age.

Neil was never too busy with Crown cases to assist private clients and friend with their problems. His patience in dealing with people was an example to others and he often gave his time without expectation of reward.

After 17 years as Crown Solicitor Neil accepted appointment as a High Court judge in 1985. Early in his judicial career he was responsible for the judgment in Te Weehi v Regional Fisheries Officer [1986] NZLS 680 which confirmed the existence of Maori fishing rights and proved a landmark decision for the Waitangi Tribunal. His judgments were marked by a simplicity of language, the result of considered and clear thinking, and were rarely appealed to a higher Court. Other high profile cases he presided over in recent years were the Christchurch Civic Creche and Bain murder trials.

During his years as Crown Solicitor Neil was prominent in Law Society affairs, being Canterbury President in 1977 and Vice-President of the New Zealand Law Society in 1984. Outside the law Neil had a long association with the Order of St John and a life-long involvement and commitment to the Catholic Church.

Neil’s family were his greatest love, and in co-operation with his wife Maree their home was a haven of joy and hospitality. He is survived by his widow, six children, nine grandchildren, one brother and two sisters. His friends and acquaintances share in their loss.

This obituary was first published in LawTalk 452, April 1996, page 3.

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Last updated on the 11th May 2012