Robin Cooke, Baron Cooke of Thorndon

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The Right Honourable
The Lord Cooke of Thorndon
President of the Court of Appeal
In office
Preceded by Sir Owen Woodhouse
Succeeded by Sir Ivor Richardson
Personal details
Born (1926-05-09)9 May 1926
Wellington, New Zealand
Died 30 August 2006(2006-08-30) (aged 80)

Robin Brunskill Cooke, Baron Cooke of Thorndon ONZ KBE PC QC (9 May 1926 – 30 August 2006) was a New Zealand judge and later a member of the British House of Lords. Prior to reaching the age of 75, Lord Cooke was a Lord of Appeal in Ordinary and a member of the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council. He is widely considered one of New Zealand's most influential jurists, and is the only New Zealand judge to have sat in the House of Lords.

Early life and education

The son of a Supreme Court Judge, Mr. Justice P.B. (Philip) Cooke and his wife Valmai, Lord Cooke was born in Wellington, and attended Wanganui Collegiate School. He graduated with a LL.M. degree from Victoria University College, and subsequently studied at Clare College, Cambridge as a Research Fellow. While on a travelling scholarship, Lord Cooke was awarded a MA degree in 1954 from Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge and subsequently a PhD degree in 1955.

In 1952 he married Annette Miller, with whom he would have three sons.

Legal career

Cooke was admitted to the New Zealand bar in 1950, and was also admitted to the English bar as a barrister of Inner Temple in 1954. He practised law in New Zealand as a barrister for almost twenty years, and was appointed as a Queen's Counsel in 1964. In 1972 he was appointed as a Judge of the (former) New Zealand Supreme Court (now High Court). He held this position until 1976 when he was elevated to the New Zealand Court of Appeal (at that time the highest local court in that country). In 1986, he was appointed as President of that Court – a position he was to hold for the next 10 years. On his retirement from the Court of Appeal in 1996 Cook was granted a British life peerage as Baron Cooke of Thorndon,[1] of Wellington in New Zealand and of Cambridge in the County of Cambridgeshire,[2] becoming a member of the Appellate Committee of the House of Lords where he sat as a Lord of Appeal (Law Lord) until his retirement in 2001. He also sat (from time to time) as President in the Courts of Appeal of Samoa, the Cook Islands and Kiribati; as well as being a Non-Permanent Judge on the Hong Kong Court of Final Appeal and a Judge of the Supreme Court of Fiji.

Cooke was the only Commonwealth judge in the past century to sit in the Appellate Committee of the House of Lords on United Kingdom appeals. He adjudicated on nearly a hundred cases in the House of Lords and the Privy Council; his final case before retirement was Delaware v City of Westminster, in October 2001.

Legal philosophy and influence on the law

Cooke is regarded as one of the most influential jurists in New Zealand in the latter quarter of the 20th century.[citation needed] He took what could be considered a natural law approach to some areas, often seeking to assert a right for the courts to intervene where none was prescribed in legislation. In his extrajudicial writings, he also speculated that, in the most exceptional circumstances, an Act of Parliament that egregiously violated fundamental rights might be void at common law. This view contradicted the dominant parliamentary supremacy theories of A. V. Dicey, which had guided common law courts since the late 19th century. However, Cooke's view recalled a similar opinion expressed by the famous 17th century English jurist, Sir Edward Coke.

Cooke, not uncontroversially, asserted and developed his views in a number of judgments issued throughout his time on the bench. He is credited with having contributed considerably to the development of administrative law in New Zealand and internationally, and was also recognised for his contribution to the law relating to the Treaty of Waitangi.

In 1985, he delivered the judgment of the Court of Appeal in the case of Finnigan v New Zealand Rugby Football Union,[3] allowing the appeal of lawyers seeking an injunction against the NZRFU's proposed tour of South Africa. The proposed tour followed the controversial 1981 Springbok Tour, and was cancelled after the High Court re-heard the case in light of the Court of Appeal's judgment.

In 1987, he delivered the judgment of the Court of Appeal in the case of New Zealand Maori Council v Attorney-General, which sought to clarify what Parliament meant by section 9 of the State Owned Enterprises Act 1986. The act stated "Nothing in this act shall permit the Crown to act in a manner that is inconsistent with the principles of the Treaty of Waitangi", but what those principles might be was left to the courts to decide. The principles elicited by President Cooke set legal standards for the first time on the relationship between the Crown and Maori.

From 1992 until 1996, Cooke was General Editor of The Laws of New Zealand and selected the original authors for the different titles.[4]

In an extraordinary unprecedented attack, some of Australia’s most senior judges co-wrote the preface of Meagher, Gummow and Lehane’s Equity - Doctrines and Remedies, where they provided the following character assassination of Lord Cooke: “In New Zealand, the prospect of any principled development of equitable principle seems remote short of a revolution on the Court of Appeal. The blame is largely attributable to Lord Cooke's misguided endeavours. That one man could, in a few years, cause such destruction exposes the fragility of contemporary legal systems and the need for vigilant exposure and rooting out of error.”

The warning suggests, the NZ legal system is so weak that established law can be destroyed, and no one is there to fix it.[5]

Honours and awards

Cases, articles and books

  • Cooke, Robin (1969). Portrait of a Profession: The Centennial Book of the New Zealand Law Society. Wellington: Reed Publishing.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

Coat of arms

Arms of Robin Cooke, Baron Cooke of Thorndon
File:Robin Cooke Arms.svg
The arms of Robin Cooke[9] consist of:
In front of a black robin counter statant a black robin statant Proper.
Sable and Argent
Sable on a cross engrailed Or between four volcanoes Argent inflamed Or a cross Ermine.
On the dexter a mid-nineteenth century Captain in the Royal Navy Proper and on the sinister a Maori warrior Proper cloaked skirted and holding in the exterior hand a spear Or and adorned with two head feathers Argent.
Pro Aequitate Dicere (To speak in favour of equity)


  1. 1.0 1.1 The London Gazette: no. 54227. p. 16139. 28 November 1995.
  2. 2.0 2.1 The London Gazette: no. 54368. p. 5171. 11 April 1996.
  3. [1985] 2 NZLR 159.
  4. Sir Robin Cooke, "Preface", Introduction, The Laws of New Zealand, Butterworths, Wellington, 1992, p. v.
  6. The London Gazette: no. 47104. p. 41. 30 December 1976.
  7. The London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 50553. p. B31. 13 June 1986.
  8. "The Queen's Birthday and Golden Jubilee Honours 2002" (5 June 2002) 57 New Zealand Gazette 1553.
  9. "The Arms of Baron Cooke of Thorndon". The New Zealand Armorist: the Journal of the Heraldry Society of New Zealand. 64 (Spring 1997): 16–17. 1997.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

External links

Legal offices
Preceded by
Sir Owen Woodhouse
President of the Court of Appeal of New Zealand
Succeeded by
Sir Ivor Richardson
New creation Justice of the Court of Final Appeal of Hong Kong
Succeeded by