Leave system alone, says David Bain judge

The judge who presided over David Bain's retrial has retired with a parting warning to leave the legal system alone.

Justice Panckhurst yesterday took off his legal gown and left it on the bench in the No 1 courtroom of the High Court in Christchurch at the end of his final sitting after 18 years as a judge.

Queen's counsel, judges, lawyers, court staff, and family packed the ornate courtroom for the function for a man described as "a pillar of the Christchurch legal establishment", and "the silent assassin" for his cross- examination abilities as a Crown prosecutor.

Graham Panckhurst was admitted to the bar in 1970. His appointments included Crown solicitor for Christchurch in 1985, president of the Canterbury District Law Society in 1992, Queen's Counsel in 1994, and High Court judge in 1996. He has presided over some of New Zealand's most high-profile cases, including Bain's retrial in 2009 over the killing of his family in Dunedin on June 20, 1994. He also presided over the Royal Commission of Inquiry into the Pike River mining disaster.

Panckhurst told the session the legal system worked.

"It seems to me that the worth of the adversary system is sometimes questioned by interest groups, ministers and others," he said yesterday.

"I doubt the wisdom of fine- tweaking the system we have." Sitting on the bench, he found himself swayed by one argument and then by the other. "That is the system working as it should. I doubt that it is broken. I think we should resist any temptation to 'fix' it."

Solicitor-General Michael Heron said Panckhurst had made an outstanding contribution to the law and the judiciary, right through to a recent decision about a prison hunger-striker, which differed from the Crown position.

Panckhurst paid tribute to colleagues, court staff, and acknowledged family members.

"It is difficult to contemplate leaving this place. My gown is frayed . . . literally. You might think I am heading that way as well. I'll take it off in a moment and leave it on the bench."

The Press