Sir Owen Woodhouse

09 June 2014
Sir Owen Woodhouse (left) with The 2012 Legal Research Foundation Visiting Scholar, Professor G. Edward (Ted) White
Sir Owen Woodhouse (left) with The 2012 Legal Research Foundation Visiting Scholar, Professor G. Edward (Ted) White

Sir Owen Woodhouse, one of the Auckland Law School's most distinguished alumni died earlier this year. He was President of the New Zealand Court of Appeal and the architect of New Zealand’s no fault accident compensation scheme.

Sir Owen studied at the Auckland University College (as it then was) from 1935 to 1939, completing his LLB in 1940. He studied part-time and worked as a law clerk for Alfred North (later President of the Court of Appeal) and then Kenneth Brookfield, before his fledgling legal career was brought to a halt by World War ll. During the war he was seconded to the Royal Navy and awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for naval operations in the Adriatic in 1944, demonstrating the determined attitude that brought him success throughout his long and noteworthy life.

Returning to his home-town of Napier after the war, Sir Owen re-entered legal practice, becoming Crown Solicitor for Napier in 1953 at the age of 36, and going on to become a Judge of the  Supreme Court (now High Court) in 1961 when it was relatively rare for members of the judiciary to be appointed from outside the main centres. In 1981 he was appointed President of the Court of Appeal, a position he held until his retirement from the bench in 1986. He held this position at a time when this was the highest court in New Zealand, with very few appeals being taken to the Privy Council in London.

A distinguished jurist who was known for his reforming and progressive approach to the development of New Zealand jurisprudence, Sir Owen has been variously described as “progressive”, “innovative” and a “generous and compassionate” judge.

It was while he was a judge of the Supreme Court that Sir Owen headed a major enquiry into personal injury compensation in New Zealand, producing the Woodhouse Report which recommended the no fault accident compensation scheme which was subsequently adopted. His report has had an enormous impact on life in New Zelanad and has attracted considerable international attention.