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FRAZER, Sir Francis Vernon
Judge and industrial authority, President of the Court of Arbitration and Compensation Court.
Francis Vernon Frazer was born in Dunedin in 1880, the son of John Dawson Frazer. He was educated at Nelson College and at the University of Otago and Canterbury University College. After graduating M.A. and LL.B. he was admitted to the Bar in 1905 and in the same year married Nina, the daughter of R. C. Black. He followed an unusual path to judicial office, almost completely bypassing the Courts. At no time was he leading counsel, but he began his judicial career at the exceptionally early age of 31, when he was appointed a Stipendiary Magistrate at Wellington in 1911. After seven years on the Magisterial Bench, he became chairman of the Public Service and Post and Telegraph Appeal Boards, and in 1920 was transferred to the office of the Public Service Commission as Assistant Commissioner. In the following year he became President of the Court of Arbitration (1921–34), a position in which he was to achieve distinction as a worthy successor to such of his predecessors as Williams, J., F. R. Chapman, J., Sim, J., and Stringer, J. His judicial qualities were recognised in 1928 when he was appointed a temporary Judge of the Supreme Court, in which capacity he displayed the well-balanced, serene, and knowledgeable temperament so necessary to the task. The same traits that had stood him in good stead in the intricate, frequently confusing, and specialist spheres of the Courts of Arbitration and Compensation, which were at that time merged in a single tribunal, upheld him in his work on the Supreme Court Bench, and he never had a judgment upset by the Court of Appeal. He died in Wellington on 10 May 1948 at the age of 67.
Sir Francis Frazer was first and foremost admirably founded in the law, and was specially equipped to carry on and consolidate the work of the Court of Arbitration begun by the distinguished company of Judges who preceded him. The essence of his approach to his task was that it was futile to attempt to develop arbitration and compensation as if they were subjects for strict Courts of Law, and he never fell into the error of doing so. He was assisted in this policy by a masterly knowledge of the awards and rulings of the Court of Arbitration and the Compensation Court. That he was an expert in all matters falling within the jurisdiction of the two Courts was acknowledged by all parties to their proceedings. An emphasis on economics in his university studies served him well on the Bench, but he had too practical an outlook ever to be over-ridden by such narrow considerations. In compensation work he was familiar not only with the difficult and sometimes confused law, much of which stemmed from English authorities, but also with the medicine and surgery involved. Living and working in a period when the functions of government were expanding rapidly, he had the faculty of bedding the judicial method down comfortably with constantly changing administrative conditions. An ideal arbitrator, he excelled in reconciling strongly opposed opinions and attitudes. His amiable nature brought a friendly atmosphere to his various tribunals, but no one had any doubt that his purpose and determination was to apply judicial principles without fear or favour.
The extraordinary breadth of his interests and capabilities was demonstrated by his outstanding work on such important primary industrial bodies as the Executive Commission of Agriculture and the Dairy Commission. His brief term on the Supreme Court Bench might well have been made substantive but for the tradition, essentially English, though also followed in New Zealand, which forbids the raising of a Magistrate to a Judgeship of the High Court. But what was lost to the Supreme Court Bench was gained by the primary industries. He began this work as chairman of the Dairy Commission in 1934, and in 1938 was knighted. His influence on the gradual development and rationalisation of the primary industries of the Dominion in the face of vital changes in world marketing and demand for primary products was only fully appreciated after his death. His greatness lay in his unequalled ability to apply judicial method to whatever was the law as expressed by Parliament, and the difficult period of the thirties was the sort of challenge he welcomed. R. J.
- New Zealand Law Journal, 1958, “Legal Portraits”, Hunter, W. J.