Lord Cooke was born into what was almost a law dynasty, all but destined for the law. His grandfather, Frank Cooke, was a lawyer who was for a time Crown prosecutor in Palmerston North, and his father, Philip Cooke, was considered in his day to be a brilliant judge.
Lord Cooke took family achievement to stellar heights. Chief Justice Dame Sian Elias describes him as “the greatest judge that we’ve produced in New Zealand”. James Farmer, QC, president of the New Zealand Bar Association, also deems him “the pre-eminent jurist in New Zealand’s history”, an assessment shared by many others, including former prime minister Sir Geoffrey Palmer, who appointed Lord Cooke president of the Court of Appeal in 1986.
The law almost missed out on him.
As a young man, English literature was his primary passion and he thought of becoming a novelist. When he won a scholarship to Cambridge, his father suggested he consider a thesis on Victorian novelist Thomas Hardy.
In any event, Lord Cooke reversed his priorities, putting his greatest effort into the law but remaining enamoured with English literature – and the English.
His was an intellect more than broad enough for both passions and his grasp of English was to the advantage of his outstanding career in law.
AdvertisementAdvertisementIn the 20 years of his appointment to the Court of Appeal, 10 as a judge and 10 as president till his retirement in 1996, his domination was partly illustrated by the wide citing of his judgments.