Rt Hon Paul East CNZM KC PC
The New Zealand Law Society Te Kāhui Ture o Aotearoa mourns the death of the Right Honourable Paul East CNZM KC PC, former Attorney-General and esteemed practitioner within our community. He was 76 years old.
Paul began his legal education at the University of Auckland, graduating with a Bachelor of Laws degree in 1970. While there he formed what was to become a lifelong friendship with the late John Haigh QC, forged by an abiding irreverence, self-deprecation, ready, often wicked, senses of humour and a deep love of and compassion for people. Paul was a law clerk at Morpeth Gould in Auckland between 1968 and 1970 before attending the University of Virginia, where he completed a Master of Laws degree in 1972 and met his future wife Lyn, a native New Yorker. Recently Lyn and Paul celebrated 50 years of marriage which brought him great pride. He commenced his career as a lawyer with East Brewster, a Rotorua firm, in 1973, and continued as a consultant for them until 1990 when he became Attorney-General.
Before entering Parliament, Paul took an active role in local government. He was a Rotorua City councillor and the Deputy Mayor. He also served as Chairman of the Rotorua Airport Committee between 1977 and 1978.
Paul was a keen conservationist, having been a member of both the Environmental Defence Society and Rotorua's Conservation Society committee, with cleaning up the region's lakes its focus. In 1976 he was named one of New Zealand’s Young Conservators of the Year. Aptly perhaps, his award was presented by newly elected Prime Minister Robert Muldoon. At that stage it had not dawned on Paul that he would one day become a member of Robert Muldoon’s National Party caucus.
In 1978, Paul was elected to Parliament as the Member for the Rotorua electorate. He continued to represent that seat until he became a list MP in the 1996 election. Constituents from his tenure recall a member of parliament who was generous with his time and always accommodated people whose views and beliefs differed from his. He also was a strong advocate for local projects and developments, and the reinvigoration of Rotorua’s tourism industry was front of mind.
When National returned to office in 1990, Paul was made Attorney-General and Leader of the House. He served as Attorney General for seven years and advocated on significant international issues. In 1995, he argued a case before the International Court of Justice on behalf of New Zealand against France’s nuclear testing in the Pacific Ocean. In the same year he headed the development of an advisory opinion to the UN General Assembly on the legality of nuclear testing. He was also instrumental on issues considered important across the political divide, specifically in his work on the protection of whistle-blowers.
As Attorney-General, he was also responsible for elevating several prominent members of the profession to the bench. Included amongst those names are the first two women High Court Judges, Dame Sylvia Cartwright and Dame Sian Elias, former Supreme Court Judge Sir William Young and former Court of Appeal Judge Tony Randerson.
Paul was appointed a member of the Privy Council in 1998. In 1999, he resigned from Parliament to take up the position of New Zealand High Commissioner to the United Kingdom in London. Paul remarked in a newspaper article that his three-year term was “one of the high points” of his life. In his time as High Commissioner, he had to deal with significant events in the United Kingdom and abroad, including the 1999 Paddington rail crash, which claimed two Kiwi lives, and Sir Peter Blake's untimely death. He was awarded the Freedom of the City of London during his time there.
Paul was awarded the New Zealand 1990 Commemoration Medal. His service to Parliament and law was recognised when he was appointed a Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit in 2005.
In later years he has served as a Consultant at Bell Gully, and held a number of other roles including 11 years as the Chair of the Antarctic Heritage Trust.
Overwhelmingly, family, friends, colleagues and members of the public remember Paul’s dedication to people, the legal profession and the law, and service to the community. Paul never lost sight of the fact his first duty was to those who elected him, and as defence counsel in criminal court he battled for the underdog, with acquittals often reflecting the sheer weight of his reasoned argument. Nor did Paul ever lose his humility or common touch in a political career which was characterised by his preference for pragmatic humanity over dogma or doctrine, winning him respect from both sides of the political spectrum.
Paul is survived by Lyn, daughters Sophie, Nina and Lucinda and their partners, and grandchildren Edwin, Leonard, Freddie, Hugh, Dylan and Frida.
On behalf of the legal profession, we extend our sympathies to Paul’s family, friends, former colleagues and his community at this incredibly sad time.