Former chief justice Eichelbaum dies

Sir Thomas Eichelbaum is survived by three sons.
Sir Thomas Eichelbaum was the country's top judge from 1989-1999.

Tributes from the legal profession have flowed following the death of former chief justice Sir Thomas Eichelbaum, who came to this country as a refugee.

Sir Thomas was chief justice from 1989-1999, having been called to the bench in 1982. He established the Criminal Appeal division of the Court of Appeal during his time as New Zealand’s top judge.

Current chief justice Dame Sian Elias says in a statement that members of the bench are deeply saddened to hear of his passing.

The judge was born in Germany in 1931 and moved to New Zealand in 1938. He was educated at Hutt Valley High School and Victoria University College where he graduated with an LLB in 1954.

The judge was a former representative tennis player and joined Chapman Tripp when he became a lawyer, making partner in 1958. He became a barrister in 1978 and was made a Queen’s Counsel the same year.

He was knighted in 1989.  

NZ Law Society president Kathryn Beck says in a statement that Sir Thomas was president of the NZ Law Society from 1980 to 1982 and had been a key player in the enactment of the Law Practitioners Act 1982, which made what were very progressive changes at the time to the regulatory requirements of the profession.

“On his retirement as President, the Law Society’s Council’s tribute to him included the statement that he was a ‘very friendly, humane and cheerful and essentially, modest man’. By all accounts that summed him up."

“Sir Thomas arrived in New Zealand in 1938 at the age of seven, a refugee from Nazi Germany. His rise to prominence in the legal profession and the judiciary from such a beginning is in itself a statement of his determination and ability. We have lost an important contributor to our justice system,” Ms Beck says.

Lady Eichelbaum died in 2013. Sir Thomas is survived by their three sons.