When Queen’s Counsel Paul Heath was made a High Court judge he promised himself that if he got to the point he felt he needed a new challenge he would get out.
After 16 years on the Bench, Paul retired in 2018, aged 62.
“The last thing the public need is a judge who is not engaged. I wasn’t at that stage but I wanted to get out before I got to it,” says Paul.
- Paul Robert (Paul) Heath QC
- Coventry, England.
- Entry to law
- Graduated LLB from Auckland University in 1978. Admitted in 1978. Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Arbitrators, AMINZ and a Chartered Arbitrator.
- Barrister in Bankside Chambers, Auckland. Associate of South Square, London.
- Specialist area
- Mediation and arbitration, dispute resolution.
Paul became a Queen’s Counsel in 1998 and in 2002, aged 46, was appointed to the High Court, moving from Hamilton back to Auckland.
During his time as a judge he sat as a member of the criminal and civil divisions of the Court of Appeal between 2003 and 2016, and also sat as a judge of the Court of Appeal of Vanuatu in July 2010.
In practice he appeared numerous times in the High Court and Court of Appeal and on three occasions in the Privy Council. He was a Law Commissioner between 1999 and 2002.
From 1999 to 2001 and in 2010 he was head of New Zealand’s delegation to electronic commerce and insolvency working groups of the United Nations Commission on International Trade Law.
Paul is a Fellow of both the Chartered Institute of Arbitrators and the Arbitrators’ and Mediators’ Institute of New Zealand, and a Chartered Arbitrator.
His principal areas of expertise are arbitration, commercial law, insolvency law, equity, trusts and legal issues affecting Māori. He is a member of Bankside Chambers in Auckland.
“I’m a team leader at the litigation skills seminars in Christchurch in August. The opportunity to help the youngsters is great.
“That’s one of the things I have enjoyed about coming into chambers. There are a lot of really talented young barristers here. And it is good to be able to pass on whatever I can to help them.”
First lawyer in the family
An only child, Paul was 11 when he came from England to New Zealand with his parents in 1967.
“Neither of my parents were involved in the law. They were properly described as working class in the UK.
“Dad was a toolmaker and was always keen to move away to give better opportunities and we came over here. My Mum ran a stationery shop. I had never had a member of my family at university, let alone be a lawyer. I was the first one to have that opportunity, and it worked out.
“Both my parents were instrumental in ensuring I reached my potential. I could not have had this career without them.
“Law was a bit of a hit and miss thing. Because I had not had anybody involved in the law I didn’t have any inclination one way or the other.
“My father used to play chess and met Richard Sutton, who was always a very good chess player and was also a lecturer at that stage at Auckland University, and later became Dean of Law at Otago University.”
Professor Sutton was a New Zealand chess champion three times, a New Zealand representative at the Chess Olympics in Yugoslavia in 1972 and national master in 1963 and 1968.
“I went along with my father - probably about 15 or 16 at that point - and got talking to Richard. I went to an orientation day and found myself at law school. Richard ended up being my tutor in creditors’ remedies, which was the area I ended up specialising in.”
Paul spent most of his practice life in Hamilton, mainly with Stace Hammond from 1981 to 1995, followed by a couple of years as a consultant before going to the Bar.
Cricket … and Myanmar
He is married to Kerry, an internal auditor, and they have no children.
“As I have got older my sporting involvement has moved from participation to watching. I played a bit of rugby in late teens early 20s, and played cricket a bit more.
“I played cricket played in Auckland for Howick Pakuranga and then for Te Rapa and Old Boys in Hamilton. I am on the Northern Districts Cricket Board now, having come off the Bench, and have kept that interest in cricket, which is the predominant of my sporting interests.
“I’ve been very lucky with travel and have seen most of Europe and still spend a bit of time in the UK, where Kerry and I have family, although her family are originally from Australia.
“In 2018 I did some judicial training in Myanmar, one of the more exotic things I’ve done.”
Paul was about to head for Kiribati to sit on the Court of Appeal at the time of this interview.
“There are places I have not been to I would like to go to, including China and South Africa. There’s an INSOL (International Association of Restructuring, Insolvency and Bankruptcy Professionals) meeting in South Africa next year that I may get to.”
Bankside Chambers is currently setting up an office in Singapore at Maxwell Chambers – a leading alternative dispute resolution complex – mainly for lawyers involved in mediation and arbitration, including Sir David Williams QC, Campbell McLachlan QC, Paul and others at Bankside.
“I have recently come back from Singapore and the new office is underway. There are still things to be done to make it into a functional office and it will probably be up and running properly around October. They are very interesting and exciting times.
“I’m not particularly musical. I tried the guitar when I was young, but rather stupidly didn’t finished the lessons. It’s something I would have liked to have been able to do. I’m into rock and pop, late 60s and 70s rock - The Beatles, Th’ Dudes from New Zealand, Fleetwood Mac and The Eagles.
“I used to like novels and historical books but found over the years I have to do so much reading for work it has really turned me off picking up books over the holidays, which is not good. But that’s just the way it is. I’m hoping in the next year or so I might get back into that reading.
“The job of a judge is much more demanding and takes a lot more hours than I think a lot of people realise. I can’t remember the last novel I read. Isn’t that awful?
“You need your concentration for the things that are important to read. And while reading for relaxation is important it’s not that relaxing if you have been spending most of your day reading.”
There’s been a murrrderrr
“I’m interested, despite the fact it is a little like work, in murder mysteries on television. I’ve been watching the old Taggart series again, since they have been playing from inception, with Mark McManus.
“I think the nature of the story lines are interesting, the people are interesting and you see a different side to what you do in other crime dramas. I’m not keen on Midsomer Murders. Taggart’s a bit more gritty, and I enjoy McManus more. It is interesting watching it move through different phases and time periods.
“I have no pets and drive a small Ford Ecosport – a point A to point B car.
“Dinner guests are not something I’ve thought about. There are a number of people who would fit in. At the top of the list would be Nelson Mandela. I would like to learn exactly how things developed and what it was like moving out of prison and coming back to being a great leader.
“I had a chance to talk to Robin Cooke [Baron Cooke of Thorndon, New Zealand judge, British Law Lord and member of the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council]. I would like to talk to people I had not met and talk through legal things.
“I’m an awful cook but my wife is very good at a variety of foods, and depending on who was coming she would find what was necessary. And with good New Zealand sauvignon blanc and pinot noir.
“Given my background the question about an alternative career to law is two-fold.
“If I had not come to New Zealand I don’t believe I would have gone to university because I was a late academic developer. In those days it was just Oxford and Cambridge and I would not have got anywhere near them.
“So I probably would have ended up doing journalism. I was interested in that at that stage. Now having got the qualifications it would be a different variety of options I would have available.
“I’ve always tended to think of it in terms of what would have happened had I not had those opportunities, rather than what would I do if I wasn’t a lawyer.
“I’m into my third career now. I have been a practising lawyer, an advocate, I’ve been a judge and now I’m back into the practice but more as an arbitrator/mediator.
“I’m very keen to see how I can fair in an international environment. In a lot of ways they are all different jobs.
“It’s going to be busy in my new job.”
Over a long career in journalism Jock Anderson has spent many hours in courtrooms and talking to members of the legal profession. He can be contacted at email@example.com