By Sue Richards
The successful grafting of the Scandinavian Ombudsman concept on to New Zealand’s Westminster system of government can fairly be attributed to the personal skills and qualities of New Zealand’s first Ombudsman, Sir Guy Powles.
Under his wise stewardship from 1962 until his retirement in 1977, the role of the Ombudsman as an independent and impartial investigator of complaints from citizens about the actions of the State developed into the accepted and credible part of the constitutional system of checks and balances we are familiar with today.
Following his appointment in 1962, he was undoubtedly able to draw on the wide experience he had gained in his career to that point, first as a lawyer (1927-1940), then as a soldier (1940-1945), then as a diplomat (1945-1962). The skills acquired in each stage of his career and the exposure of different cultures and sectors of the community, both within New Zealand and overseas, stood him in good stead when he was called upon to address the infinitely variable range of complaints which citizens refer to the Ombudsman.
However, the real key to Sir Guy’s success in establishing the Ombudsman in New Zealand lay in his innate personal qualities. He had the ability to gain the confidence of those who sought help from him as well as those at whom complaints were directed. He was able to understand and analyse the concerns of all parties to a dispute and to articulate them in a fair and even handed manner. He had great patience and tolerance. He was a good listener, and although he would, where necessary, argue his viewpoint forthrightly, he was always polite.
As an employer, he was a role model and mentor. He instilled in those who worked with him the spirit of fairness and justice, developed the skills and potential he saw in his staff and inspired them with the confidence and courage to discharge their responsibilities with the same impartiality, fairness and justice he brought to the role of Ombudsman.
It is a reflection of Sir Guy’s successful establishment of the New Zealand Ombudsman as a credible constitutional institution that the New Zealand model has been used as a blueprint for the establishment of the Ombudsman in many parts of the world.
This obituary was first published in LawTalk 426, 21 November 1994, page 2.