New Zealand Law Society - Keith Robinson, 1933 - 2008

Keith Robinson, 1933 - 2008

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Keith Robinson, who passed away on September 15, 2008, had a long and successful career as a lawyer in private practice, as a Crown Counsel with the Crown Law Office, as a barrister sole, and as an employee of the Office of the Ombudsman.

Keith has been described as a “miracle baby” – when he was born in England his mother was 49 and his father 60. Both his parents had been widowed after World War 1 and had married again. While his father had children from his earlier marriage, his mother had been told by the medical fraternity that she would never conceive!

When he left school he went to work as an unqualified law clerk before leaving England for New Zealand in the mid-1950s when he was 23. He was given the option of New Zealand or South Africa for free university education and chose the former because he had one friend there.

Keith studied law at Victoria University of Wellington in the early 1960s where he was taught by Don Mathieson QC, Dr George Barton QC and Colin Aikman, among others. Don Mathieson said Keith Robinson was a lawyer who entered the legal profession with a commitment to the community, and during his career developed a sense of responsibility to the courts and the public as well as to clients.

In the days before the resource management act, Keith wrote a text on town and country planning which was, Don Mathieson says, a helpful and accurate guide to the law administered by the planning tribunals. He also edited and compiled numerous texts on land law, and was working on a fourth edition of Land Law for Lexis Nexis up to his death.

Admitted in 1962, Keith went into private practice and became a partner in 1964 in McGrath Blennerhassett which later became McGrath Robinson and then McGrath Vickerman & Partners. Keith Robinson retired from that firm in 1979 and briefly worked at the ACC before joining the Crown Law Office as Crown Counsel in 1980. While with Crown Law he represented the Ministry of Energy in some major litigation which has become a leading case on the topic of judicial review, known as the Bulk Gas Users Group v Attorney-General. By coincidence, counsel for the plaintiffs, subsequently the appellants, was former partner, John McGrath, now Justice McGrath of the Supreme Court. Also coincidentally, former partner John Pohl was involved as Office Solicitor with the Ministry of Energy.

Keith and John Pohl also worked together on another significant case when Keith again successfully represented the Ministry of Energy in a challenge to the closure of a large number of geothermal bores at Rotorua. John Pohl says: “Scientific opinion had considered such closure necessary to protect Rotorua as a tourist attraction. Without it, the scientific evidence pointed to the likely failure of the Pohutu geyser as well as other geysers at Whakarewarewa. Not only did Keith successfully defend the Ministry’s actions, but the consequence of the closures was also a success. Not only did geyser activity not deteriorate further but geysers that had already died, started up again and, indeed, as I understand, new ones erupted as well.”

Keith retired from Crown Law in 1997 and for a time worked as a barrister on his own account including a period at John Salmond Chambers. At the beginning of 2000 Keith joined the Office of the Ombudsman where he worked on a number of complex and specialised investigations. He enjoyed this work and brought to it “the integrity and patient concern for detail which were characteristics of his whole career”.

Don Mathieson: “He was a man of faith, a man of considerable accomplishment, a fine husband and father, and a friend of some 46 years whose memory I shall deeply cherish”.

John Pohl: “He was, in turn, an employer, a partner and a colleague, but in all those capacities always a good friend. I shall miss him”.

This obituary was first published in Council Brief, October 2008

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