New Zealand Law Society - Judge Derek Sydney Castle, 1924 – 1995

Judge Derek Sydney Castle, 1924 – 1995

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By Judge Finnigan, Employment Court

Judge Derek Castle died in Wellington on 15 November 1995. He was appointed nearly 16 years ago to what was then the Arbitration Court, later to become the Labour Court and then the Employment Court. I shared with him the distinction of presiding in all three of those jurisdictions.

At the time of his appointment, Judge Castle had been senior partner in the firm of Castle Pope and Partners. The partners of that firm included, at various times, not only the judge but also his father Sydney, his brother Lester and the judge’s nephew, Tim.

Both before and during his judicial tenure, Judge Castle was much admired. He was admitted to practice in 1950. As he acquired experience he became known as a mentor for other, younger practitioners. He was always readily available to others. Good manners, good humour and a complete lack of pomposity marked all his professional attendances and appearances before the courts. In a contemporaneous report of his appointment to the bench, he was described by a colleague as a man with an exceptional manner, pleasant and non-abrasive, who was particularly noted for his ability in court. While in practice and later, on the bench, he was able to defuse escalating rhetoric with a comment that brought attention gently back to the issues. If there was humour to be seen in a situation, he would see it. If exceptional understanding of human nature was called for, he would show it. Disarmingly frank, he spoke out fearlessly, especially for those to whom life handed the rough end of the stick. He had a formidable capacity for work.

As chairman of the Waterfront Industry Tribunal, he took on a different task. The parties who appeared before him there consistently attested their respect for his humanity and while not always agreeing with the decision which the Tribunal delivered, always respected them and admired his dedication to keep the wheels on the waterfront moving.

As a judge, he made a substantial contribution to the development of New Zealand industrial law. He disavowed any special interest in industrial law at the time of his appointment to the court in 1980, but he immediately showed a firm grasp of its principles, and applied them in a down-to-earth and commonsense way. His success at doing this is attested by the opinions of his judgments as expressed from time to time by the Court of Appeal.

He had talents and interests outside the law. As a pupil at Christ’s College he developed a love of music that stayed all his life, both as a chorister and as a cellist. He was an accomplished pianist. In sport he was a good cricketer and tennis player. At home he was a technician, mechanic, builder and carpenter. He never lost his fascination with the technical. He was a steam engine and model train enthusiast. All of these skills helped him develop a bond of deep friendship with all his children. The affection which he had for his family, and that which they had for him, was quickly evident to all who knew him.

As his father and brother have done before him, Derek Sydney Castle leaves to the practice of law, to the legal practitioners and judges who encountered him, and to his family, a sound and smiling legacy.

This obituary was first published in LawTalk 449, 5 February 1996, page 5.

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