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Judge who toppled a government dies, aged 95

Monday 29 Mar 2010 6:18 p.m.

Former Chief Justice of Samoa, Nieu, the Cook Islands, Nauru and Tuvalu, Sir Gaven Donne has died

Former Chief Justice of Samoa, Nieu, the Cook Islands, Nauru and Tuvalu, Sir Gaven Donne has died

Sir Gaven Donne, a former Chief Justice of Samoa, Niue, the Cook Islands, Nauru and Tuvalu, and whose decisions toppled a government, has died, aged 95.

Sir Gaven died at Otaramarae, near Rotorua, yesterday.

Born in Christchurch on May 8, 1914 he was educated at Palmerston North Boys' High, Hastings Boys' High, Victoria and Auckland universities, and admitted to the bar in 1938.

After serving in the Middle East and Italy in World War 2, with the 2nd Expeditionary Force from 1941 to 1945, he returned to legal practice at the end of the war. He became a magistrate in 1958 and spent 40 years on the bench.

In 1970, he was appointed a Supreme Court judge in Western Samoa, then in 1972 its Chief Justice, serving for three years before becoming a member of its Court of Appeal until 1982.

In the that period, he was also Chief Justice of Niue and the Cook Islands. In 1985, he was appointed Chief Justice of Nauru and Tuvalu.

He was Chief Justice in the Cook Islands when a furore erupted over the 1978 general election.

Both the Democratic Party, led by Dr Tom Davis, and the Cook Islands Party of Sir Albert Henry had flown in voters from New Zealand, with the result was a win for Sir Albert.

But while Democrats voters had paid their airfares, those voting for the Cook Islands Party had their fares heavily subsidised or totally paid for, out of government coffers.

After two months of hearings challenging the subsidised votes Sir Gaven disallowed them.

When Dr Davis became prime minister it was the first time a court ruling had changed a Commonwealth government.

Sir Gaven noticed his eyesight deteriorating in 1999 and was diagnosed with age-related macular degeneration, so could not read as much as he would have liked.

He blamed his military service for his failing eyesight, saying serving in bright sunlight without sunglasses prematurely damaged his eyes.

He used New Zealand Foundation for the Blind talking magazines to keep in touch with the business world, so he could keep working.

"I like work; I had 40 years on the bench. When you like your work it's not a chore it's a vocation, a pleasant one," he said.

Sir Gaven was knighted in 1979 and retired in 2001, aged 86. He is survived by his four children.

NZPA

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