National portrait: the judge exchanges law books for good readings and excessive gardening in the country


Latin is a language for lawyers.

Sir Ron Young learned it and used it in his career.

After 26 years as a judge, he retired to an old house and large garden in Wairarapa where he could use the Latin names of the plants and their extended families. Instead, he’d rather point his finger and say, “That yellow over there.”

Sir Ron Young felt his time as a judge had expired after 26 years, so he hung up his robe.

LOREN DOUGAN / FAIRFAX NZ

Sir Ron Young felt his time as a judge had expired after 26 years, so he hung up his robe.

He has let go of the control he imposed on the courtroom and enjoys the cheerful border collies and the “jungle” that he and his wife Kate, a lawyer, are now dealing with.

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The dogs chase the many rabbits and hares that jump around the garden, but never catch them.

Sometimes Sir Ron Young "frenzy-gardens" but the retreat brought the freedom to light the fire for a few days and read instead.

LOREN DOUGAN / FAIRFAX NZ

Sometimes Sir Ron Young “binge-gardens”, but retirement has brought the freedom to light fires on certain days and read instead.

Young believed that at 63, he had reached his expiration date as a judge and retired. He says they have been “incredibly privileged” to have this freedom.

Anyone who sees him in court, dreadfully determined and in an impeccably dark robe, wouldn’t imagine him walking home to rock, wearing cropped jeans and a T-shirt, but that was what he was doing. he had done during his last years on The Bench.

Now, on certain days, he and Kate “gorge themselves” in the garden; other days it’s, “What are we going to do today?” “

Physical work and exercise made him stronger than he has been in years, and for leisure he reads snippets from Man Booker’s nominations list.

With his son Ben, he built a swimming pool to make the summer heat more bearable.

All the years of watching other people’s grief in court have done nothing to prepare him for the death of Ben, 35, who was killed in a car crash in May.

Empathy and sadness for others was one thing, but it wasn’t until it happened to him that he understood.

In a way, not having a job made it more difficult. Without that goal, death became a minute-by-minute concern, he says.

But if he had still worked, he might not have been able to continue. He certainly would have needed a long break, and he wanted to take the time to look after Ben’s wife and daughter.

About a fortnight later, when the loss was still recent, he was knighted for service to the bench.

At the time, he didn’t want to talk about the honor, but at the inauguration in October, he said the family were able to take advantage of the opportunity.

Coming from a working-class background in Dunedin, the seemingly mundane school he attended, Wakari, has now produced three senior judges who have been ennobled.

Young doesn’t remember anything special about his time there – other than being caned – but it must have been something more than the statistical blip he suggests that happened to himself, Sir Bruce Robertson and Sir John Hansen.

Young followed his father, a linotype operator, to The Evening Star newspaper and worked part-time as a reporter while studying law at the University of Otago.

Being a “Mister” is flattering, but that’s a background, aside from the occasional teasing from friends and a joke that now that he’s a knight, he should start riding Kate’s horse.

He spends a few weeks a year as a judge in the Vanuatu and Solomon Islands Courts of Appeal. It’s the work that keeps him connected to the law and he says the cases are fascinating.

From his years as a district court judge, chief justice of that court, and then as a High Court judge who often also sat on the Court of Appeal, he had a list of things that he said needed to be corrected in the criminal justice system.

In September, he gave a speech about them.

Unpopular cases, but Young considered them important because the public’s right to a fair trial was compromised.

Few would vote for lawyers to raise their wages, even though he says that is what is needed.

The words “good” and “cheap” do not go together in the legal system, unlike the words “legal aid” and “blowout”.

Young admits that things could not have gone on as they were with the cost of legal aid increasing year by year, but when it was cut and hit rock bottom the bottom line was. feel.

Some experienced and knowledgeable lawyers were no longer prepared to meddle in the bureaucracy for the money offered. He saw the consequences firsthand as a trial judge and the consequences when he sat on appeal.

Trial dates were under threat when the legal aid administration took too long to decide on funding for forensic testing for defendants.

Young stepped out of his normal role and called a Legal Aid approval officer to warn him that he was going to have to tell the court that a murder trial would be delayed because Legal Aid did not. does its job.

“He got results but it was not ideal,” he said. Later it got a little better.

Funds for Crown prosecutions have also been reduced. Funding increases in the last budget were not enough to make an improvement, he said.

Whenever an accused was abandoned, walked out of court with a justified grievance because he had failed to perform well, or when the public believed that responsibility for a crime had been avoided, trust was going down.

The cuts encouraged the Crown to avoid trials. It was not necessarily a bad thing for both parties to accept that a case could be settled by a guilty plea on a lesser charge, but the reduction in costs should not lead to these agreements, and the reasons for that. these should be made public.

In some cases, like the death of a child, Young says it might be better to let a jury decide rather than leaving the public confused about what happened.

When Young started in criminal law about 40 years ago, victims were barely mentioned. Now they’re important, but he thinks some changes mean courtrooms may no longer be safe or civilized.

Controls had been relaxed on what victims could say in court, and sometimes they wanted to tell an accused what was thought of them and their families.

“The impact of the crime on the victim is an important part of a sentence. The fact that the victim thinks the accused is a bastard is not,” Young said in the speech.

He called on the legal community to “raise a stench” about changes that could undermine the right to a fair trial because, he said, no one else would.


Nancy I. Romero

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