7 Jan 2017

Sir Bruce Slane dies, aged 85

8:06 pm on 7 January 2017

Sir Bruce Slane, New Zealand's first Privacy Commissioner, has died today aged 85.

Bruce Slane in 2001.

Bruce Slane in 2001. Photo: Te Ara/Public Domain

He was a strong supporter of civil rights, and upheld the right of ordinary people to safeguard their personal information against unwarranted intrusion by business and by the state.

Sir Bruce was born in Auckland in 1931 and was educated at Takapuna Grammar School and Auckland University, graduating with a law degree in 1957.

He was active in legal circles, serving as president of the Law Society and as a council member of the International Bar Association. He was the foundation director of the Law Practitioners' Co-operative Society.

His other major interest was the media, writing a newspaper column and hosting a radio talkback show under the pseudonym of Bruce Christopher, and he was an executive member of the Communications and Media Law Association.

Sir Bruce's two careers combined when he was appointed chair of the Broadcasting Tribunal in 1977, holding the position until 1990 when the Tribunal was abolished.

In 1992 he was appointed Privacy Commissioner.

Under the provisions of the 1993 Privacy Act, the Commissioner is to oversee the operation of public sector information-matching programmes, and he soon crossed swords with then Social Welfare minister Jenny Shipley over so-called welfare cheats.

The current Privacy Commissioner, John Edwards, said Sir Bruce was a mentor and a friend and helped him set up the office.

He describes him as a very compassionate person and said Sir Bruce looked at every single one of the complaints that crossed his desk ,despite the office receiving hundreds of them.

"He was very, very moved by the individual stories that he saw and it meant a great deal to him the weight of responsibility that he had for dealing with the grievances that individual New Zealanders had and many, many New Zealanders will have been touched very personally by him."

Mr Edwards said Sir Bruce was always ahead of his time as a lawyer.

Over the years, until he stepped down in 2003, he was involved in a variety of issues, from the activities of the Security Intelligence Service, to the rights of sperm donors and their children.

He regretted that he wasn't always able to hold back political pressure to extend the power of the state and felt a personal sense of failure in being unable to get sufficient funding for the Commissioner's office to deal with the level of complaints about breaches of privacy.

Bruce Slane was awarded the CBE in 1985 and became a Distinguished Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit in 2002. He accepted the title of Knight Companion in 2009.

He is survived by his three children.

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