University of Otago Law Festschrifts
Last Updated: 31 May 2019
John Alexander Smillie graduated in 1967 with an LLB from the Faculty of Law, University of Otago, followed by an LLM in 1968. He worked as a solicitor from 1966-1968 in the Invercargill firm of Cruickshank Pryde & Co. In 1968-1970 John was appointed as a Senior Teaching Fellow in the Faculty of Law at Monash University. He was awarded a New Zealand Universities Grants Committee Postgraduate Travelling Scholarship in 1970 and a Graduate Fellowship to Yale Law School in the same year. John graduated with an LLM from Yale University in 1971 and a JSD from Yale University in 1973.
John returned to the Faculty of Law at the University of Otago with a stellar academic reputation. He was appointed a Lecturer in the Faculty of Law in mid 1973 and joined a small inner circle of full-time colleagues. In 1973 the full-time academic staff were the Dean, Professor Peter Sim, and two Associate Professors, Alan Holden and Don Paterson. Although there were no Senior Lecturers at that time, the Lecturers were Ian Muir, Judith Mayhew (temporary) and John Bickley, and I was the lowly Assistant Lecturer. fte part-time Lecturers, who outnumbered us, were drawn from the Dunedin legal profession and included Bill Reid, Maurice Mitchell, Jim Conradson, Noel Carroll, Ron Gilbert, Walter Rutherford, Bruce Robertson and Ian Douglas. John was promoted to Senior Lecturer in 1976 and was appointed to a Chair as a Professor of Law in 1981.
If memory serves, in mid 1973 over a beer or two I first met John socially in the Gardens Tavern. As more young Lecturers and Assistant Lecturers were appointed in the mid 1970s (Geoff Hall, Ross Laidlaw and Bruce Harris), together with a complement of Senior Lecturers (Ian Williams, Nigel Jamieson and Giora Shapira), we enjoyed a convivial and collegial atmosphere in the Faculty of Law. ftrough the 1970s, each year the Otago University Law Students’ Association hosted many social functions including law luncheons, stein evenings, cocktail parties, the Law Ball and the Annual Dinner. From around 1973 to mid 1979, on Fridays at about 5:00 pm we adjourned to the Lager Bar at the City Hotel and the Wig and Pen Bar at the Law Courts Hotel where we met local lawyers and other friends and acquaintances. fte conversation was very lively and entertaining!
Between 1966 and 1979 the Faculty of Law was accommodated in that wonderful old building which was originally the Dental School and then the Registry. From 1973 onwards, for six years John and our colleagues occupied offices in what is
now the University Staff Club. In May 1979 the Faculty of Law moved to the austere and modernist structure formerly known as the Hocken Building and recently renamed the Richardson Building.
John and I were neighbours in adjoining offices for over 35 years. John was appointed Dean of the Faculty of Law from 1986 to 1988 and under his tenure six new lecturers arrived in 1986 alone. During John’s term as Dean, the Sir Robert Stout Law Library increased exponentially, particularly with the addition of the North American law reports collection.
During the early to mid 1980s, we pursued extracurricular activities on Friday evenings in the Staff Club and at Cassidys now known as Eureka. According to John’s account in “Law at the University 1979 – 2004” in Jim Sullivan (ed) Occupied Lawfully (2006) at p 57: “We even combined with some young practitioners and senior students to field one of the least successful soccer teams ever to enter a Dunedin club competition.”
John’s teaching and research interests were the law of torts, civil obligations and intellectual property. He was the co-author of The Law of Torts in New Zealand and wrote chapters on the rule in Rylands v Fletcher, nuisance, trespassing on land and remedies. John contributed chapters on “fte Future of Negligence” in C E F Rickett (ed), Remedies in the Law of Obligations, “Who Wants Juristocracy?” in R Bigwood (ed), Public Interest Litigation, and “Patentability in Australia and New Zealand under the Statute of Monopolies” in C E F Rickett and G W Austin (eds), International Intellectual Property and the Common Law World. In addition, John has published many articles in national and international law journals, including the Law Quarterly Review, European Intellectual Property Review, Public Law, the Canadian Bar Review and the University of Toronto Law Journal.
Over many years I was deeply impressed by John’s redoubtable intellect as well as his wit and somewhat satirical sense of humour. John proceeded from first principles and ignored minutiae and irrelevant detail. His writing was precise in every way, his reasoning was irresistibly logical and his language was expressively lucid. No matter how many thousands of law students John has educated, he was widely admired and respected as an outstanding and inspirational teacher.
In 2009 John was acclaimed as a Fellow of the New Zealand Academy of Humanities (FNZAH) for his long-standing reputation as a critical scholar who has challenged the basis of civil law obligations. He was again acknowledged as a Fellow of the Royal Society of New Zealand (FRSNZ). To use a Latin expression, this is a rare tribute in the form of a Liber Amicorum (a Book of Friends) to
salute John’s exemplary contribution to legal education and to legal scholarship in New Zealand and further afield.
Forty one years on, looking back over John’s very distinguished and memorable career, as a friend and colleague I am honoured to contribute to this foreword. May John and Judi enjoy a long and healthy retirement together with their family and friends.
My first encounter with Professor John Smillie was on enrolment day at the University of Otago in 1976. I was a nervous fresher and he happened to be the course adviser whose signature was needed on the enrolment form. I was proposing to do a joint arts and law degree but after talking to him completely abandoned that idea and decided to focus all my energies on the law.
Opinions may vary on the benefits of combined degrees but my decision that day reflected John’s passion for the law and the force of his personality.
During the ensuing five years, I was extremely lucky to have John as a lecturer both in torts and administrative law. It was no coincidence that they were my favourite subjects. He was an inspiring teacher, even if I was more than a little intimidated by his formidable intellect and incisive mind. His knowledge of the law was exceptional, as were his analytical skills. ftrough him I learnt to read case law in a new way, to subject the text to far greater scrutiny, to look for underlying policy rationales and to challenge reasoning. fte subject matter was sometimes complex and voluminous but he made it all so clear. And interesting.
fte same qualities are apparent in his legal writing. fte writing is polished and scholarly in every sense of the word. fte close textual analysis, the thoroughness of the research and above all the precision and clarity of language and thought are truly outstanding. Every word has been carefully considered. fte reasoning unfolds in a series of crisp logical steps.
No wonder we students were in awe of him. And no wonder he was the first person I turned to for help with my torts dissertation when it came badly unstuck. He had been unable to supervise it, being overseas on sabbatical. On his return, I was into his office like a shot at the very first possible opportunity. Forget about jet lag! And needless to say the problems which had seemed so intractable were then all resolved. John had strongly held views and a reputation for not tolerating fools