University of Otago Law Festschrifts
Last Updated: 31 May 2019
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
lightly but as this incident demonstrates he was also very approachable, supportive and generous with his time.
I came to appreciate John’s teaching abilities anew when I later studied overseas and realised that even on the international stage there were few who were as good a law teacher as he was.
Festschriften are a rare honour reserved for pre-eminent scholars. John is undoubtedly in that category and thoroughly deserving of such a tribute. He has had a distinguished career, established himself as a leading academic and made a very significant contribution to legal education and the development of the law in this country. I am proud to have been taught by him and to be asked to contribute to this foreword.
Hon Justice Christine French
It is impossible to encapsulate a lifelong friendship in a few words.
In 1963 I nervously attended my first Legal System lecture in a prefabricated building at the northern end of campus. I found myself sitting next to a bespectacled red headed young man. Our lecturer was the inestimable Professor Frank Guest. fte lecture started on a doom laden note. We were informed that only one in three of us could expect to earn an LLB. In retrospect, the statistics were amazingly accurate.
Fortunately, John Smillie (universally known as Ginge in those days) and I were in the one in three group. From that initial lecture a lifetime friendship was formed. Firstly, through Law School with many late night discussions over jurisprudence and other subjects, occasionally fuelled by the odd Speights. Our torts moot, again in front of Frank Guest, where I quickly came over all weak and sat down leaving John to present the whole argument. Which he did with aplomb. Our paths were different. John pursued academia in the USA and then Australia before returning to Otago to become one of its most distinguished fixtures. I went into practice in Dunedin and then was lucky enough to enjoy a judicial career in Hong Kong and then New Zealand.
ftroughout our increasingly lengthy life span we have always been in close contact. In Dunedin, North Canterbury, Hong Kong, and once, memorably, in London, Ontario. fte Hansens arrived at the Smillie’s door a couple of days after they had taken up residence prior to a sabbatical at the University of Western Ontario. Leaving our daughter behind, we immediately were off to a country fair to enjoy tractor pulling, hog wrestling and lukewarm beer, drunk from the ubiquitous