New Zealand Law Society - Robert Quentin Quentin-Baxter, 1922 - 1984

Robert Quentin Quentin-Baxter, 1922 - 1984

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Professor RQ Quentin-Baxter, Professor of Law at Victoria University of Wellington since 1968, died suddenly in Wellington on Tuesday 28 September 1984. He was a man of great wisdom and learning, particularly in international law and constitutional law. He leaves a very large gap. He will be greatly missed.

Professor Quentin-Baxter graduated in law and philosophy from Canterbury University College and was New Zealand Senior Scholar in Law in 1947. For the next two years he was assistant to the New Zealand Judge, Mr Justice Northcroft, on the International Military Tribunal for the Far East at Tokyo. He served the Department of External Affairs from 1949 to 1968 in Wellington, Ottawa, New York and Tokyo, and from 1964 to 1968 he was an Assistant Secretary of the Department and Senior Commissioner for New  Zealand to the South Pacific Commission. He attended five sessions of the United  Nations General Assembly (he added a further five while at the University), and diplomatic conferences on the protection of the victims of armed conflict  (1949)  and the law of the sea (1958  and 1960).

On his arrival at Victoria University, Professor Quentin-Baxter strengthened further his constitutional law. The classroom work was paralleled and informed by advice  to Niue, the Cook Islands and the Marshall Islands. That last assignment, to advise on constitutional development of an American territory was a tribute to the experience, skill and judgment of both Professor Quentin-Baxter and his wife Mrs Alison Quentin-Baxter who was in fact the principal adviser and who shared fully in so many of his endeavours.

Professor Quentin-Baxter  found  time as well to continue to develop and practice his international legal skills in his very busy 16 years at the University. He completed his term as a New Zealand Government representative on the United Nations Human Rights Commission and was then elected to three five-year terms on the International Law Commission of the United  Nations. That body is the principal UN agency charged with the progressive development and codification of international law. Its members serve in their prsonal capactes. Professor Quentin Baxter's great qualities were recognised in that lengthy term - few members from small states have served so long - and in the tributes paid to him the day after his death in the legal committee of the UN General Assembly. His colleagues there, who included the President, the Registrar and several other Judges of the International Court, referred  to his great intellectual  strength, his kindness, his honesty, his humour, and achievement in handling perhaps the more difficult and demanding of the topics on the Commission's agenda.

Professor Quentin-Baxter was leader of the New Zealand legal team at the International Court in the Nuclear Tests case in 1973 and 1974. He led the New Zealand delegation to the 1974 and 1977 sessions of the diplomatic conference called to review and develop the law for the protection of victims of armed conflict. And he was President of the New Zealand Institute of International Affairs.

The knowledge, the vast experience, the good judgement, the humanity, the humour - all came together in his scholarship and teaching. Many students and colleagues have been touched and affected in the most beneficial of ways by those qualities. In a flood of messages, the many people at Old St Paul's for his funeral service testified to that.

Not for him a law which is technical and separate. "The role of intelligence," he said, "is not to frustrate instinct." It is to instill it. And the law is not to be artificially divided: the international environment incrementally affects our constitutional development.

The Faculty of Law at Victoria University has supported a proposal to establish a Quentin-Baxter Memorial Trust Fund. it will provide assistance to students in the Faculty. It will give some emphasis to Professor Quentin-Baxter's public law interests. Members of the profession will be approached for contributions to the fund where that appears appropriate.

This obituary was published in the October 1984 issue of Council Brief, the monthly newsletter of the Wellington District Law Society.

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