New Zealand Law Society - A judgment from Heaven

A judgment from Heaven

A judgment from Heaven

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Continuing our tales from long ago theme… The author of this does not want to be identified. It’s not in the latest New Zealand Law Dictionary, but “beak” was once slang for a magistrate.

About 40 years ago a new young “beak” arrived in a prosperous regional city. He held a private pilot’s licence and was determined to use his flying skills to make his visits to outlying courts on his busy circuit a quick and safe experience.

He had a young family and wanted to be away from home for as short a time as possible. The country roads had lots of heavy traffic and were dangerous as he was soon to learn from the number of people who appeared before him to answer to serious traffic offences, many of which involved death or injury to other road users. Flying to the circuit courts meant less travel time and was considerably safer than driving in heavy traffic on busy main roads which had many narrow bridges. The Justice Department was not prepared to pay for the hire of an aircraft but would only reimburse the normal mileage for a motor vehicle to travel to the circuit courts. This suited the “beak” because in those days an aircraft could be hired from the aero club for about $15 per hour (while the aircraft was in the air) and the longest flight to a circuit court took less than 1 hour.

A typical flight consisted of arriving at the aero club at about 8am. A pre-flight inspection of the aircraft, checking fuel, filing a flight plan and take off at about 8:30am. A 20-minute flight to the airfield at a distant circuit town and an inspection to see how many sheep there were on the airfield and where they were located. A swoop down the main runway to clear the sheep, a steep turn and landing. Park the aircraft and be picked up by the court bailiff or the local police sergeant (who was the President of the local aero club) and be sitting in court by 9:30am. After court it was back to the airfield, a quick take off (after again clearing the sheep from the runway) and in 20 minutes back to home base, sign off the aircraft and home to wife and family.

Clag day

On a memorable occasion the “beak” noticed out the window of the courthouse where he was sitting in the most distant part of his circuit, that the weather appeared to be deteriorating. A “front” was moving in from the sea and he was anxious that he would not be able to fly home but would be stranded in the “wop wops”. He telephoned the aero club at his home base and was assured that the weather was fine there and that if he left immediately, he would have no problems reaching home. A quick trip in the police car to the local airfield (in a farmer’s paddock) to pick up the aircraft and the “beak” was airborne. He was flying by VFR (visual flight rules) which meant he had to be able to see the ground and could not fly in or above clouds.

Dark gray/black clouds (which pilots call clag) were rolling in from the sea and it looked as though they would block the flight path north in a very short time. What did the “good book flying manual” say – “if in doubt do not proceed but turn back to your departure point”. OK, do a 180 degree turn – what is all that clag that has come in behind me? I can’t see where I have just come from!! OK, another 180 degree turn and see if we can make it north before the clag ahead rolls in. It is getting very close and a quick look at the navigation chart shows a valley running north/south in the general direction of home.

Being gradually pushed by the clag further and further towards the valley it was not long before the aircraft was flying low up the valley with the clag rolling in overhead. Those gorse bushes look awfully close – so do the fence posts. After about 20 minutes of hedge hopping with the clag closing overhead the “beak” radioed home base to say that he was at 1,000 feet over a small seaside township and that the clag was pretty thick, but he would turn down the coast towards home. At that very moment another club aircraft radioed that it was at 1,000 feet inbound from Auckland over the same seaside township.

The other aircraft suddenly appeared out of the clag about 100 yards ahead flying at right angles to the “beak’s” plane. The “beak” immediately turned and followed the other faster aircraft. The clag was still closing in from the sea and was forcing the aircraft to fly lower and lower. The “beak” was navigating by watching the seas break on the shore because he knew that if he followed the coast he would arrive at his home base aerodrome. Flying along the coast at cliff top height was an unnerving experience in itself but suddenly as if by magic, the aircraft flew out of the clag into bright sunshine. A regulation downwind approach, turn into wind, land the aircraft and report to the tower. “Where have you been and how come your suit is soaked in sweat?” I must get some instrument flying experience said the “beak”.

A smart lawyer in one of the circuit courts once called the “beak” the “angel of judgment”. He said it described the “beak” arriving from the clouds, hearing the cases, delivering judgments and disappearing back into the clouds at the end of the sitting day. Probably an apt description.

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