John Haigh QC

05 September 2012

John Haigh
John Haigh QC

JOHN HAIGH QC– 1946 – 2012 by Rt Hon Paul East, QC, CNZM

In April the legal profession was greatly saddened to learn of the death of John Haigh, a highly respected barrister and a member of The University of Auckland Law School Fundraising Committee.

Born into a legal family, John, together with his father Frank, gave over one hundred years of service to the legal profession in Auckland. His father was indeed a legendary figure in the law and it cannot have been easy to follow in his footsteps. Frank was the most prominent personal injury lawyer of his generation and for many years represented most of the trade unions in New Zealand. He was also a keen advocate for social change playing an active role in many organisations including the anti-apartheid movement. It was in such a household that John was raised and where his values, particularly his humanity and compassion, were formed in those early years.

John graduated from the Auckland Law School in 1970 and in his final year topped the Law School in one the most difficult subjects – evidence. He was one of the last of the generation who studied part-time, working as a Law Clerk at McKegg Adam Smith. After a working holiday in Europe, he joined his father’s legal practice Haigh Carthey & Charters in 1972. His friends still recall the Friday night drinks at that office where many of us were fortunate to enjoy listening to stories from some of the great trade union figures like Bill Andersen and Tom Skinner.

Within a few years John was appearing regularly in the High Court and Court of Appeal and after some 10 years of practice he went to the Bar. Within a few years he had built a very busy and successful practice in both criminal and industrial law. He had great ability to get on with everyone, and was equally at home acting for trade unions and major corporations.

He was fiercely courageous and, like his father before him, took the hardest cases and on occasions fought the most unpopular causes to ensure that the accused was properly represented. He gave everything to his cases and that often took a great deal more energy, courage and determination than clients should have expected.

His compassion meant that he gave himself selflessly to his clients and because of his humanity and generosity he helped an enormous number of people. He won what looked to be impossible cases but he did it by putting his heart and soul into them. This took its toll. Those who knew him well know that he carried a great deal of stress from his professional life, which he internalised and very seldom showed.

He had great wisdom and judgement and there are many younger members of the profession who also owe him a debt of gratitude for the interest he took in their careers.

John enjoyed a full life outside the law. He was both a keen sportsman and took a great interest in the arts. He was a valued board member of Silo Theatre and a patron of the Auckland City Art Gallery. He was also a generous contributor to many charities and had a special fondness for the SPCA, which he was always willing to act for on a pro bono basis.

However, his greatest commitment was to his wife and family. He set an example to us all as a husband and father and he will be greatly missed by his family. At his funeral on the 27th April, St Mary’s Cathedral was overflowing, testimony to the fact that he will be greatly missed by many friends and colleagues.

Former Governor-General and patron of the Auckland Law School Fundraising Campaign, Rt Hon Sir Anand Satyanand QSO, said at the recent function to launch the campaign:

Mention of John Haigh is particularly appropriate because he can be seen to represent many qualities of the finest of lawyers – independence, soundness and tenacity – qualities which had some of their origins in the teaching of this faculty. This was the place where in addition to learning the principles of the great cases and the statutes, we learned the importance of assessment of people and what they said. John Haigh was unfailingly direct and if I can recall with warmth, on the irreverent side, but you could bet the house on what he said. He would in ordinary circumstances have been here this evening as a member of the Law School’s fundraising committee. John Haigh’s absence, to which I draw attention in a representative capacity, underlines the legacy of those many graduates of this establishment, who have advanced the law in its practice and its teaching and in public life in this country and elsewhere.

It is the intention of the Law School to establish a special fund in John’s memory as a lasting legacy to the contribution he has made to our profession.