On 10 December 2015 the Environment Court in Auckland held a special sitting in honour of Associate Professor Kenneth Palmer to mark his retirement and recognise his exceptional contribution as a barrister, academic and author in the fields of environmental and local government law.
The Court comprised Principal Environment Judge L J Newhook, Justice A P Randerson, Justice E D Wylie, Chief Employment Court Judge G L Colgan, Environment Judge J A Smith, Environment Judge D A Kirkpatrick and Environment Commissioner A C E Leijnen.
Judge Newhook, a former student of Professor Palmer’s, began by saying that the occasion was “richly deserved” after 46 years of full time teaching at the Auckland University Law School “and indeed having taught many of us”.
Justice Randerson referred to the numerous texts and publications Professor Palmer has written and made contributions towards. He made particular mention of D Nolan Environmental and Resource Management Law (5th ed, LexisNexis, 2015), for which Professor Palmer has been a major contributor, and Professor Palmer’s own, most recent, text Local Authorities Law in New Zealand (Thomson Reuters, 2012), which Justice Randerson said “quickly became bibles in their respective fields”. Justice Randerson praised Professor Palmer’s “careful, thorough and sound analysis”, which he said “has been a major help to students, practitioners and to the Courts.”
Hon Peter Salmon QC next addressed the Court saying that having read Local Authorities Law in New Zealand at the time of its launch he was “deeply impressed at the depth of research and the breadth of coverage” of the text.
Dr Royden Somerville QC also spoke of Professor Palmer’s outstanding skills as an author:
“His well crafted and precise case notes, his thorough commentaries on existing law and his tempered and well considered opinion pieces on law reform proposals have greatly assisted and informed counsel and academics.”
Professor Barry Barton of Waikato University noted Professor Palmer’s outstanding contribution to teaching, research, practice, policy, public understanding and law reform over the last 40 years. He added that the Resource Management Law Association awarded Professor Palmer an Outstanding Person Award in 2002 for his contributions to the law, theory and practice of resource management. Professor Barton closed by saying:
“There is no exaggeration to say that Dr Palmer is widely regarded as the doyen of resource management and local government law in New Zealand.”
The Court was also addressed by Bronwyn Carruthers (on behalf of the New Zealand Law Society Environmental Law Committee) and Andrew Brown QC (Director of the Legal Research Foundation).
Professor Palmer replied by summarising his career in the law. He described growing up in Wanganui and seeing how hard his father work as a lawyer, which “almost put me off law”. He joined the Auckland University Law School in 1961, becoming a law clerk and completing an LLB degree part time.
“I performed the usual tasks of going to the Land Transfer Office, looking at subdivision plans, titles and debating the acceptability of documents.”
After graduating, Professor Palmer took a year out to complete a Masters degree and to be the “first full-time tutor” at the Auckland Law School. He then joined the Crown Solicitor’s office for two years where he was involved in various departmental prosecutions and High Court jury trials, including some homicide cases. He remembered having to prosecute Captain Fred Ladd for flying his amphibian aircraft under the harbour bridge in 1967:
“I had to prosecute him and I do remember going to his house in Parnell and serving him with the summons. I had an interest in aviation … so I served the Information and he invited me in and we had a few drinks and so by the time I left I had determined that somehow or other, although I was the prosecutor, I had to make sure this person wasn’t convicted.”
Captain Ladd was discharged without a conviction in recognition of his public services in rescuing people.
Professor Palmer went on to speak of his time at Harvard Law School in the late 1960’s and his developing interest in civil rights which he said “has remained with me”. On returning to Auckland in 1969 Professor Palmer took up a lecturer position at the Auckland Law School teaching criminal law and town and country planning and continuing to practice as a barrister on a part time basis. In 1974 he completed a diploma in town planning.
Professor Palmer described the beginning of his career as an author when in 1975, on leave in the United Kingdom, he began writing a text on local government law. Around the same time he gained entry to the University of Virginia in Charlottesville to undertake a doctorate in Juridical Science, which saw him complete a thesis on a comparative study of New Zealand, United States and United Kingdom local government and planning law. Back in New Zealand this lead to the publication of Local Government Law in New Zealand (1st ed, Sweet & Maxwell, Wellington, 1978) and Planning Law in New Zealand (1st ed, Sweet & Maxwell, Wellington, 1977). These were later revised and republished as Local Government Law in New Zealand (2nd ed, The Law Book Co Ltd, Sydney, 1993) and Planning and Development Law in New Zealand (2nd ed, The Law Book Co Ltd, Sydney, 1984).
Between 1978 and 1988, Professor Palmer was the editor of New Zealand Recent Law, a monthly bulletin published by the Legal Research Foundation.
Local Authorities Law in New Zealand
In 2012, Dr Palmer wrote his third treatise on the law relating to local government and local authorities. Local Authorities Law in New Zealand (Thomson Reuters, Wellington, 2012) comprises of a hearty 1236 pages and covers all aspects of legislation and case law applying to local government in New Zealand. That text is also available on Westlaw NZ and Dr Palmer is currently reviewing the chapters to reflect developments in local government and resource management law in the last three years. The revised chapters will be republished online in the coming months.
No doubt with that task in mind, Professor Palmer mentioned that he had just seen, but not yet read, the Resource Legislation Amendment Bill 2015. Of this he said:
“I sort of wilt when these new amendments come through Parliament. They are all prefaced with the idea of simplification but another hundred pages is not necessarily going to produce that outcome.”
On closing his address, Professor Palmer thanked the speakers and other attendees in the packed courtroom and expressed his gratitude to his wife, Vivienne, who “has stood by me for the last fifty plus years” and who, he said, had “put up with endless late nights, which you have to do if you’re trying to write things”.
Professor Palmer is retiring from full-time academia to focus his full attention on legal writing and research.
Read the full transcript from the court
Click here for a transcript of the proceedings.