Sir Ivor Richardson died in Wellington on 29 December 2014 aged 84. As a judge, academic and chair of a number of influential committees he had a major influence on New Zealand law, and was New Zealand’s longest-serving Court of Appeal judge.
Chief Justice Sian Elias says Sir Ivor’s collegial approach to judging and his interest in better judicial administration meant he had a unique influence on the operation of the courts. Dame Sian says his openness about judicial work, his emphasis on the importance of reasons, his often-expressed conviction that “the courts are the people’s courts”, and his spare and principled judgments have affected the way in which all judges work today.
Sir Ivor was born in Ashburton on 24 May 1930. His parents, William and Mary, were farmers. Both died when he was young, his father when he was 13 and his mother when he was 16. He was educated at Timaru Boys’ High School before attending Canterbury University College to complete an LLB from 1949 to 1953.
On graduation he was awarded the Canterbury District Law Society’s Gold Medal for the best law student. He won a WW Cook Fellowship to study at the University of Michigan in the United States from 1954 to 1955, where he graduated LLM and SJD. In 1955 he married Jane Krchma from Delaware. The couple had three children, Megan, Helen, and Sarah.
Returning to New Zealand, Sir Ivor commenced practice with Macalister Brothers in Invercargill. From 1957 to 1963 he was a partner at the firm, which was the Crown Solicitor for the region. He became known for his expertise in tax law and appeared with Sir Richard Wild QC (later Chief Justice) in the leading case CIR v Walker  NZLR 339 at the Court of Appeal. While in Invercargill he also authored two legal texts: (with WH Dunn) Sir Robert Stout: A Biography (AH & AW Reed, Wellington, 1961) and Religion and the Law (Sweet & Maxwell, Wellington, 1962).
He shifted to Wellington in June 1963 to work as a Crown Counsel at the Crown Law Office, again appearing in important tax litigation (Elmiger v CIR  NZLR 161). In 1967 he was Butterworths Fellow at the London School of Economics before moving back to Wellington to become a Professor of Law at Victoria University. He continued to appear as counsel for Inland Revenue in important tax cases while at Victoria University, and he was Dean of Law from 1968 to 1971. Sir Ivor maintained a close association with Victoria over the rest of his life and was Pro Chancellor from 1979 to 1984 and Chancellor from 1984 to 1986. He was also a member of the Council of Legal Education from 1983 to 1992.
Dame Sian Elias says in his work as a law professor, Sir Ivor influenced a generation of young lawyers, and did much to establish tax law as a field of university study.
He left the university in 1973 to resume legal practice, as a partner at Watts & Patterson in Wellington until 1977. His involvement in tax cases continued and he was also active in preparing the New Zealand Law Society submissions on proposals to amend the Land and Income Tax Act 1954.
His appointment to the High Court in May 1977 was followed five months later with appointment to the Court of Appeal and he began what was to be a 25-year career in that court. Much of it was in association with Lord Cooke, who was appointed in 1976 and was President from 1986 until 1996 when Sir Ivor succeeded him. Sir Ivor retired as President of the Court of Appeal in May 2002. He was appointed to the Privy Council in 1978.
Legal historian and District Court Judge Peter Spiller has described Sir Ivor as a judge of considerable energy, efficiency and industry.
“In court, he was patient and courteous in his dealings with counsel, tending to adopt a restrained role. He did, however, indicate where counsel did not provide argument of sufficient range and depth. He was also sensitive to the needs of litigants.” (New Zealand Court of Appeal 1958-1996, Brookers, Wellington, 2002, page 135).
Dr Spiller said Sir Ivor’s outstanding legal qualities, coupled with his remarkable length of service as a permanent judge of the Court of Appeal, meant that he played a pivotal role in the court.
“His judgments were models of legal reasoning and expression and formed invaluable precedents for the future. Richardson J’s cautious approach to judging and academic rigour placed him in the mould of predecessors such as Turner J, and he formed a counterpoint to Cooke P’s more liberal tendencies in the later years. At the same time, he too was conscious of the need for the court to respond as pragmatically and fairly as it could in terms of the law.” (Ibid, page 142).
On his retirement from the Court of Appeal, the then Minister of Revenue, Michael Cullen, paid tribute to Sir Ivor’s outstanding contribution to tax law.
“Sir Ivor was the architect of the Generic Tax Policy Process. This provides for consultation with and feedback from the private sector as policies are developed. That was a radical departure at the time but has led to stronger laws because it has allowed for the early detection of potential problems,” Dr Cullen said.
“As chairman of the committee that reviewed the organisation of Inland Revenue in 1994, Sir Ivor made a number of recommendations that have produced long term benefits for tax policy and tax administration. His legacy is huge, and will be long-lasting.”
Other tributes included one from then New Zealand Law Society President Christine Grice, who said Sir Ivor had always been ready to help young counsel, both inside and outside the courtroom.
“You have always shown commendable courtesy, patience and readiness to listen, even when counsel has been stumbling. You remain approachable, concerned and deliver your advice often with a hint of humour,” she said at his valedictory sitting.
Victoria University’s law faculty marked Sir Ivor’s retirement with a special conference in his honour from 5-6 April 2002. The conference, entitled “Roles and Perspectives in the Law”, was opened by Governor-General Dame Silvia Cartwright.
During his long career Sir Ivor’s knowledge of taxation was recognised with appointment as Chairman of the Committee of Inquiry into Inflation Accounting from 1975-76. He also chaired the Committee of Inquiry into Solicitors’ Nominee Companies in 1982 and the Royal Commission on Social Policy from 1987 to 1988. From 1993 to 1994 he chaired the Organisational Review of the Inland Revenue Department.
Sir Ivor’s contribution to the law was recognised with his knighthood in 1986. He was awarded honorary LLD degrees by Canterbury University in 1986 and by Victoria University in 1989. He was appointed a Principal Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit in 2002.
In her tribute to Sir Ivor, Dame Sian Elias says he had an unparalleled influence on New Zealand law during his long tenure as a judge, law teacher and adviser.
“His work as an appellate judge for nearly three decades touched all areas of law and provided leading cases which remain authoritative today,” her tribute says.
“He supported better access in the courts for the news media, including television, believing that the community should be able to see how the courts work. And in his own work as a judge he shunned ‘flamboyant rhetoric and evangelical fervour’, to express conclusions that were plain, principled, and fit to meet the needs of New Zealand society.
“Sir Ivor thought it important that a judge should probe and test the economic, social and political questions thrown up by law in a wide frame of reference. For him, an important source of that frame of reference was close attention to the statutes enacted by Parliament. He believed that legislation had to be seen in its social setting and that the common law of New Zealand ‘should reflect the kind of society we are and meet the needs of our society’.”
Dame Sian says the judiciary is very sad indeed to lose Sir Ivor.
“Quite apart from his standing and the respect in which he is held as a jurist, he has been a good friend and colleague throughout his life and his held in the highest affection by us all.”
Attorney General Christopher Finlayson QC says it is hard to think of anyone who has made a more substantive contribution to the law and social policy than Sir Ivor.
“His was a career marked by excellence in everything he did,” Mr Finlayson says in his tribute.
“Sir Ivor Richardson was unfailingly courteous and pleasant to appear before. But if you weren’t on top of your material, his questions would destroy your case very quickly. He was quite simply an outstanding judge.
“New Zealand has been fortunate to have someone of Sir Ivor’s calibre serving at the highest levels of the judiciary and in the other areas in which he worked.”