The Honourable Justice John Fogarty, Judge of the High Court of New Zealand
What is it about your current role that impassions you, and gets you excited about your job?
Consequences. That is what litigation is ultimately about. Life is hard enough without suffering consequences due to error of law. Judges try very hard to get the law right – to refine the issues to expose the contest as to the meaning or best application of the rule or standard to the material facts. Yes, I get passionate about that, and excited when I think I have found the just resolution of the issue.
What is the greatest challenge presented by your role? The biggest challenge?
Actively listening to unattractive arguments. By active listening I mean trying to take the argument in and find where the merit is in it – there will always be some. I believe strongly that we hear cases, not read them. I question a lot to test the argument.
What is the achievement (personal or professional) that you are most proud of?
Professional achievement? I am tempted to quote Kipling. It is hard to see any particular case as an achievement. I was very proud get to the Privy Council, first in ‘83, and to be engaged by Lord Wilberforce. I have since understood what a privilege that was – his influence endures and extends to NZ today, as a master of statutory interpretation.
What prompted you to go into law?
Default really. I would have liked a more practical profession, but I was not strong enough in the sciences and maths. I also wanted to go to sea. I grew up fishing for red cod off the wharves at Timaru, imagining I would take the Gothic out of its berth to sea, and still do.
What human quality do you admire most?
Humour – it binds us together. I find it very difficult sometimes to restrain myself on the bench. If humour is not the sort of quality that the question is aiming at, my answer is courage and dignity in the face of loss of dignity – I see it more often than one would expect.
What aspect of human nature do you dislike most?
I think ultimately it is the uncertainty of our condition: that we are not sure what is our nature – who we are.
What is your favourite legal or political-themed movie of all time?
Casablanca. (I would probably answer any “most favourite movie” question the same way.) Fortunately I don’t have the space to defend the implicit contention that it is a politically-themed movie and not just a love story. I also loved Rumpole of the Bailey, and love all the Rumpoles who appear before me.