29 Mar 2010

Former Pacific islands chief justice dies

12:31 pm on 29 March 2010

Sir Gaven Donne, a former Chief Justice of Samoa, Niue and the Cook Islands has died in New Zealand. He was 95.

Born in Christchurch in 1914 and educated at Victoria and Auckland universities Sir Gaven was admitted to the bar in 1938.

He served with the 2nd New Zealand Expeditionary Force from 1941 to 1945 and returned to legal practice at the end of the war. He became a magistrate 1958 and spent 40 of years on the bench.

In 1972, Sir Gaven was appointed Chief Justice of what was then Western Samoa in 1972, where he served for three years before becoming a member of the country's Court of Appeal until 1982.

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

He was serving as Chief Justice and as the Representative of Her Majesty the Queen in the Cook Islands at the time of a political crisis that erupted over the 1978 general election.

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

But while the Democrats voters had paid for the charter airfares, those voting for the Cook Islands Party had either not paid at all or had their fares heavily subsidised with government funds.

The Democrats filed election petitions challenging the legality of those votes and after two months of hearings Sir Gaven disallowed the votes.

Dr Davis became Prime Minister of the Cook Islands and Sir Albert was fined the maximum for conspiracy and remanded on parole for three years. Later, the Queen stripped him of his knighthood.

Sir Gaven's decision made international headlines and set a precedent in Commonwealth legal history - it was the first time a court ruling had changed a government.

He was knighted in 1979 and retired in 2001, aged 86, after a 63-year career in the law.

Sir Gaven died near Rotorua on Sunday and is survived by his four children.