The first Chief Judge of the Employment Court, Tom Goddard, who also enjoyed a strong reputation as a leading barrister prior to his appointment, t is to be remembered with a special court sitting in November.
A tough but fair-minded Judge with a formidable intellect and strong sense of fairness, he died in March at the age of 81.
As a refugee with his Jewish family from Poland, Tom Goddard (then Tomasz Goldwag) retained a strong sense of justice from an early age, having been moved with his Jewish parents to a town near the Arctic Circle at the age of two, after the Soviets invaded his Polish home, as recounted in a LawTalk tribute following his death.
His son, Justice David Goddard QC noted in a LawTalk tribute to his father that his father was seen as a threat by the Soviets even at the age of two.
He was a partner for several years with well known, now deceased barrister Sandra Moran and was one of the country’s leading defamation experts, having represented the then crusading “Truth” newspaper for several years and also numerous plaintiffs in cases that saw his trademark sense of justice to protect the media’s freedom of speech rights.
The same rigour and strong sense of fair play was evidenced in his work in employment law.
In 1989 he was appointed a Judge of the then Labour Court, and, shortly afterwards, Chief Judge. At a time of major changes to employment law and with the introduction of the Employment Contracts Act 1991 the employment scene became highly charged and volatile.
Justice David Goddard QC (right) told LawTalk his father was, at times, subject to extraordinary and unjustified attacks by right wing commentators and some sections of the media for his “liberal” views.
“This was mostly nonsense, of course. But Dad saw nothing to be ashamed of in seeking to apply the law in a way that ensured employees were not deprived of their contractual rights, and that the discretionary powers of employers were not abused. The 1991 reforms had not abolished these basic protections, contrary to the hopes and misguided beliefs of some commentators, and the court continued to ensure they were respected.”
The role of the judiciary meant that Tom Goddard could not respond to the criticisms.
“Nor, true to his principles, would he have wanted to stifle public debate – however ill-informed and biased,” says David Goddard. “He just kept doing his job, ensuring that he – and the court he led – did justice in particular cases, and developed the law in a coherent and principled way.”
The memorial sitting will be held at 4pm on 7 November in Courtroom 5.01 of the Employment Court on Level 5 of the District Court Building on 49 Ballance Street in Wellington.