New Zealand Law Society - Longest serving judge hangs up his robes

Longest serving judge hangs up his robes

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Paul von Dadelszen
Judge von Dadelszen

Reluctantly retired, the country's longest serving full time District Court Judge is definitely not disappearing into retirement.

Judge von Dadelszen's 70th birthday meant he had to hang up his robes after 23-and-a-half years adjudicating in New Zealand courts, but he will take the opportunity to “relief judge” for the next two years, before leaving the courtroom for good.

"I didn't want to retire for a moment," he said. "I really enjoyed it and didn't want to give up."

Defying perceptions of old dogs and new tricks, Judge von Dadelszen's age has embraced new technology and has tried to persuade other judges to do the same.

His latest gadget is an iPad. Judge von Dadelszen has downloaded an application, which is "not quite as good as Word but just about" and used it to write a draft paper on a plane trip to Wellington.

He has also downloaded all the Family Court Acts and Rules onto his portable computer tablet.

"It's really good in meetings," he says.

The Hawke's Bay Judge, who has spent most of his time in the Family and Youth Courts, says he tried to create a court environment where people feel comfortable.

"Gone are the days where wearing a pair of brown shoes in court meant the judge would say: 'I don't see you Mr so and so'," he says.

The adoption laws are one thing that are still too "out of date and old fashioned" for this modern judge.

Judge von Dadelszen says a career highlight has been pushing for reform of this law.

"[Adoption laws] haven't kept up with society and the way families are these days," he says.

He thinks it is important that family law remains accessible and easy to understand.

One of his current interests is the proposed review of the Family Courts announced by the Minister of Justice, Simon Power.

The most important thing to the Judge is to ensure that New Zealand's commitment to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child is recognised and respected.

The Minister is prepared to listen to those, such as the Judges and lawyers, who are "vitally concerned to ensure that the integrity of New Zealand's world-renowned Family Court system is preserved", he says.

"Ongoing consultation and then response to the eventual discussion paper will be necessary so that the outcome is influenced by those of us who have a practical working knowledge of what the Court must offer our children and families in strife."

While Judge von Dadelszen may have to retire completely in the coming years, law is in the von Dadelszen blood and the family looks set to serve the legal community for some time to come.

The Judge's father, John von Dadelszen, and Ralph Bannister bought Hawke's Bay firm of Duff and Averill and changed the name to Bannister and von Dadelszen.

The pair practised law together continually for 40 years, making them the longest serving legal partnership in the region.

Before being elevated to the bench in 1987, Judge von Dadelszen joined his father and Mr Bannister in practice as a partner. Today his younger brother, Mark von Dadelszen, continues to work in the family firm and daughter Charlotte is currently a partner in Buddle Findlay in Wellington.

Asked if he thought there were any up-and-coming lawyers in his brood of five grandchildren (it will be six at the end of the year), he laughed that his 12-year-old grandson had already asked him what subjects he should choose if he wanted to be a lawyer.

But the judge wasn't so sure his grandson would become a lawyer. He saw him following his other love – technology.

by Rachael Breckon. 

This article was published in LawTalk 775, 1 July 2011, page 9.

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