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Sir Thaddeus McCarthy ONZ, 1907 - 2001

A former President of the Court of Appeal, Sir Thaddeus McCarthy died in Wellington on 11 April 2001 aged 93.

He was born in Napier on 24 August 1907 and educated at St Bede's College in Christchurch. Orphaned by the age of 14, extended family support enabled "Thaddy" to gain an LLB at Victoria University College between 1925 and 1930 and an LLM with first class honours through Canterbury University College. This was no mean achievement in the days when the LLM was assessed by Oxford University.

Beginning in 1931, he practised in Wellington, initially with WP Coles and then with Leicester Rainey McCarthy before becoming a barrister sole.

Sir Thaddeus married Joan Margaret Miller in 1938 and the couple had four children. 

Determined to serve overseas in the Second World War, he resigned his local commission to serve with the 2NZEF in Italy. After being wounded, he was appointed Deputy Judge Advocate General in General Freyberg’s headquarters staff. He ended the war with the rank of Major.

He returned to legal practice after the war and was appointed to the Supreme Court bench in 1957 and the Court of Appeal in 1963, serving as President from 1973 until he retired in 1976. He chaired seven Royal Commissions – State Services (1961-62), Wage-fixing Procedures in the State Services (1968 and 1972), Horse Racing, Trotting and Dog Racing (1970), Social Security (1972), Maori Land Courts (1976) and Nuclear Power Generation (1976-78).

He was also chair of the New Zealand Computer Centre’s Policy Committee (1977-78), the Winston Churchill Memorial Trust (1966-76), the Press Council (1978-88) which he helped establish, and a Commissioner of Security Appeals (1977-94).

Sir Thaddeus had a great love of New Zealand’s outdoors, reflected in his 10-year chairmanship of the QEII National Trust, annual sailing trips on the Hauraki Gulf and yearly visits to Molesworth Station.

He was knighted twice, receiving a Knight Bachelor in 1964 and a Knight of the British Empire in 1974 but was probably more proud of being made a member of the Order of New Zealand (New Zealand’s highest honour and limited to a membership of 20) in 1994 because of his high regard for New Zealanders and “New Zealandness”. He was made a member of the Privy Council in 1968.

Speaking at his funeral, Sir Owen Woodhouse spoke of Sir Thaddeus’ “distaste for pretension and humbug”.

Referring to Sir Thaddeus’ notable career in the law, Sir Owen said “… he took with him to the Bench of the Supreme Court and then to the Court of Appeal the same intellectual energy and clarify of mind, the same balanced intuition and the same courtesy, which brought him regular and signal success at the Bar”.

“Sir Thaddeus was tolerant but never complaisant. He was sympathetic but still a realist. He had been blessed with subtle intuition but always he made it the partner of his sound commonsense,” Sir Owen said.

This obituary was first published in LawTalk 561, 14 May 2001, page 14.

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Last updated on the 26th May 2014