Thomas Eichelbaum

Sir Johann Thomas Eichelbaum GBE PC QC (17 May 1931 – 31 October 2018) was a New Zealand jurist who served as the 11th Chief Justice of New Zealand.

Sir Thomas Eichelbaum

11th Chief Justice of New Zealand
In office
1989  17 May 1999
Nominated byDavid Lange
Appointed bySir Paul Reeves
Preceded bySir Ronald Davison
Succeeded byDame Sian Elias
Personal details
Born(1931-05-17)17 May 1931
Königsberg, Germany
Died31 October 2018(2018-10-31) (aged 87)
Wellington, New Zealand
Vida Beryl Franz
(m. 1956; died 2013)

Early life and family

Eichelbaum was born in Königsberg, Germany, and his family emigrated to Wellington, New Zealand, in 1938 to escape the persecution of Jews.[1] He became a naturalised New Zealander in 1946.[2] Eichelbaum was educated at Hutt Valley High School, then attended Victoria University College, graduating LLB in 1954.[3] In 1956, Eichelbaum married Vida Beryl Franz, and the couple went on to have three sons.[4]

In 1978, Eichelbaum was appointed a Queen's Counsel,[5] and from 1980 to 1982 he was President of the New Zealand Law Society. In 1982, Eichelbaum was appointed a judge of the High Court of New Zealand. The highest judicial position Eichelbaum held was in 1989 when he was appointed the Chief Justice of New Zealand; he retired from the Bench in 1999.[6][7]


Following his retirement from the bench, Eichelbaum conducted investigations on a number of controversial topics. He chaired the 2000–2001 Report of the Royal Commission on Genetic Modification. He also investigated the reasons for New Zealand losing co-hosting rights to the 2003 Rugby World Cup. Following his report, the chairman and the CEO of the New Zealand Rugby Union both resigned.[7]

In 2001, he conducted a ministerial inquiry reviewing children's evidence in the controversial Peter Ellis case. His report, which has been widely criticised,[8] upheld the guilty verdicts and stands in contrast to an earlier report by retired High Court judge, Sir Thomas Thorp. A New Zealand Law Journal editorial has stated that Eichelbaum had either not read all the children's statements (reviewing only those allowed by the trial judge) or that, "with respect, his judgment is at fault."[9]

On 6 February 1989, Eichelbaum was appointed a Knight Grand Cross of the Order of British Empire in the 1989 Special Honours,[10][11] and later that same year was appointed to the Privy Council. Eichelbaum was a non-permanent judge of the Hong Kong SAR Court of Final Appeal and a part-time justice of the Supreme Court of Fiji and the Court of Appeal of Fiji.[7]

Eichelbaum died in Wellington on 31 October 2018, having been predeceased by his wife, Vida, Lady Eichelbaum, in 2013.[7][12]


  1. For instance, on one occasion Eichelbaum was attacked by a group of other schoolchildren, and even the adult who stopped the assault abused him, calling him ‘a bloody Jew’. James N. Bade; James Braund, eds. (1998). Out of the Shadow of War: The German Connection with New Zealand in the Twentieth Century. Auckland: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-558363-9.
  2. "New Zealand, naturalisations, 1843–1981". Operations. 2010. Retrieved 8 August 2018.
  3. "NZ university graduates 1870–1961: Dr–E". Shadows of Time. Retrieved 8 August 2018.
  4. "Sir Thomas Eichelbaum has died". New Zealand Law Society. 1 November 2018. Retrieved 2 November 2018.
  5. "Appointment of Queen's Counsel" (16 November 1978) 100 New Zealand Gazette 3125 at 3127.
  6. "Appointment of Chief Justice of New Zealand" (9 February 1989) 22 New Zealand Gazette 479 at 481.
  7. "Former chief justice Sir Thomas Eichelbaum has died". New Zealand Herald. 1 November 2018. Retrieved 1 November 2018.
  8. Francis, Ross (November–December 2007). "New Evidence in the Peter Ellis case" (PDF). New Zealand Law Journal. Archived from the original (PDF) on 30 May 2008. Retrieved 25 March 2008.
  9. Robertson, Bernard (February 2002). "Editorial: The Ellis case" (PDF). New Zealand Law Journal: 1. ISSN 0028-8373. Retrieved 27 April 2006.
  10. "No. 51636". The London Gazette. 6 February 1989. p. 1.
  11. "Honours and Awards" (16 February 1989) 27 New Zealand Gazette 613 at 614.
  12. "Retired Chief Justice Sir Thomas Eichelbaum dies". 1 November 2018. Retrieved 1 November 2018.
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