6 Jul 2015

Winebox Inquiry chair Sir Ronald Davison dies

9:38 am on 6 July 2015

Former Chief Justice Sir Ronald Davison has died at his home at the age of 94.

He was head of New Zealand's judiciary for 11 years, from 1978 to 1989.

Born in 1920 at Kaponga in Taranaki, Sir Ronald was educated at Te Kuiti District High School and Auckland University.

After war service in the Army and Air Force, he practised law in Auckland for 30 years, specialising in environmental law. He also did government work, heading inquiries into matters ranging from industrial disputes to the Parnell fumes panic.

He was knighted in 1978 and in the same year named as Chief Justice.

Regarded as a cautious and conservative judge, shying away from judicial activism, he was better known for chairing the Winebox Inquiry into alleged tax frauds in the mid 1990s.

The inquiry into allegations of massive fraud through the Cook Islands tax haven and a criminal conspiracy by the heads of Inland Revenue and the Serious Fraud Office took three years, New Zealand's longest ever inquiry.

Sir Ronald found no fraud but recommended far reaching changes to the law on tax matters.

During his time as Chief Justice, Sir Ronald turned down an injunction to stop a rugby test during the controversial Springbok tour in 1981.

In 1985 he sentenced the French agents Alain Mafart and Dominique Prieure to 10 years' imprisonment for the sinking of the Greenpeace ship Rainbow Warrior in Auckland Harbour and the manslaughter of photographer Fernando Pereira. He commented that people who came to New Zealand and committed terrorist acts could not expect to have short holidays at the expense of the government and return home as heroes.

In retirement, Sir Ronald chaired the 1992 inquiry into the Electricorp power crisis.

In 1994 he presided over an inquiry into Family Court proceedings involving the Bristol family. The father had killed his children and Sir Ronald's findings resulted in a number of changes being made to New Zealand's child protection legislation.

Sir Ronald died on Thursday. He is survived by his wife Jacqueline and two children, with one son predeceasing him.