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Monday 1 May 2023 1:55pm

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Flats were cold, beds were warm, the Dunedin Sound was becoming louder – personal anecdotes, vivid memories and lasting influences pepper Attorney-General Hon David Parker's Opening Address at the Law at Otago's 150th Conference and Reunion earlier this month.

Here we share some excerpts from his speech, beginning with his time as a law student at Otago in the late 1970s and early 80s:

Kia ora koutou
E ngā punga o te ture
E ngā kaitiaki o te ture
E ngā wahapu o te ture
Tēnā koutou katoa.
To those assembled here today
The anchors of the law
The stewards of the law
The exponents of the law
I greet you all.

Many will recall the excitement of our first days here as, with trepidation, we engaged in the learning of the law. Lecturers with brains the size of Brazil dazzled us with their knowledge, sometimes sporting cool leather jackets, but perhaps more often showing greater flair in words than jeans.

Here we are years later to reflect on the important role the Faculty has played in analysing, teaching, and shaping the law.

The institution as the sum of its people

We look forward to listening to the thoughts of colleagues who have contributed much to the development and application of the law.

Some now members of the judiciary, academics, barristers, solicitors, public servants, diplomats, politicians. In civil law, criminal, family, employment, Treaty, environment, human rights, international, or tax. Others who chose to devote their learnings and skills to the arts or other fields of endeavour – in business, for NGOs, sports or other causes.

We all carry with us what we learned here. This institution – which is the sum of its people over the last 150 years – has helped shape us, and through us the countries we live in.

Our predecessors include many luminaries. I'll list a few, roughly in order of their time here. You'll see how society and the legal profession has changed.

Sir Robert Stout, in the late 1890s twice the Premier of New Zealand, a land reformer, and later Chief Justice.

Ethel Benjamin, the first woman ever to qualify as a lawyer in Australasia in 1897 and that year the first woman to appear as counsel in a New Zealand (or British Empire) court. Upon moving to the UK she managed a bank, but could not practice fully as a lawyer there until the UK Sex Discrimination (Removal) Act was passed in 1919.

Sir John Salmond, Solicitor General, judge of the then Supreme Court, and author of The Law of Torts, as well as books on Jurisprudence and the Law of Contract.

Major General Sir Harold Barrowclough, soldier, Chief Justice, founding judge of the New Zealand Court of Appeal, and member of the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council.

I jump forward many decades to Dame Sylvia Cartwright, who in 1989 was appointed to the District Court, became the first female Chief District Court judge, then High Court judge, presided over the inquiry into the treatment of cervical cancer at Auckland's National Women's Hospital, was made Governor-General, and then served as an international judge on the Cambodian War Crimes Tribunal. What contributions!
Judith Mayhew Jonas, elected member of the City of London and advisor to Ken Livingston.

Sir Bruce Robertson, Dunedin lawyer, lecturer in Evidence, High Court & Court of Appeal judge and Chair of the Law Commission.

A'e'au Epati, the first Pacific Islander to be appointed to the bench of a New Zealand Court, in 2002.

Sir Ron Young, long serving District then High Court judge and now Chair of the Parole Board.

Margaret Bedggood (formerly Mulgan), lecturer here, then Chief Human Rights Commissioner, then Dean of the Waikato Law School.

Wilson Isaac, currently Chief Māori Land Court judge.

Current Court of Appeal judges French, Miller and Katz.

And in the arts and creative sectors, Greg McGee, playwright; Jonathan Lemalu, opera singer; and Sir Ian Taylor, founder of Animation Research and Taylor Made Productions.

Many, many others. Too numerous to name or even count. Leading counsel in leading cases. Hard-working people serving the needs of their communities as they buy and sell homes, or deal with the challenges of life – be they interactions with the coercive powers of the state, or relationship breakdowns, or serving as volunteers in community organisations.

I have not yet listed many of our esteemed academics. They are authors of many learned texts, like Professor PBA Sim, Dean when I started my studies, and co-author of Hinde McMorland & Sim, the leading land law text.

The combined years of endeavour behind those important contributions total not just decades but many centuries of work.

Challenges and opportunities

Every generation deals with challenges of the day.

I was here in the late 70s and early 80s. Rt Hon R. D. Muldoon was Prime Minister. Think Big, the high dam at Clyde, the proposed smelter and the Save Aramoana campaign, the 1981 Springbok tour, abortion and homosexual law reform were all contentious.

Flats were cold, beds were warm, the Royal and Ancient Anti-Scurvy League vegetable truck served as a healthy counter point to the Captain Cook. The Dunedin Sound was becoming louder. The Enemy, the Clean, the Chills, the Verlaines, Straightjacket Fits, Look Blue Go Purple, Sneaky Feelings and the Netherworld Dancing Toys. Some law students there too.

From my perspective, it was a great time to be here.

I have often said there is no part of my learning here that has not been relevant to my life.

Legal questions and societal issues

To this day I value the most important lesson I learnt here – that at the heart of most legal questions lie fascinating societal issues.

The difficult balance between individual and community rights, civil liberties, economic theory including competition, monopolies, the importance of but limits to property rights, investment certainty, political theory and democracy, risk allocation, the intersection of private and public interests, environmental externalities like to climate and water, the tragedy of the commons, identity and the interests of the majority and minorities, the often competing interests of capital and labour, and inherited privilege or disadvantage.

Understanding these often competing interests helps make sense of the law and how it should be applied or developed.

I recall being initially confounded by the elliptical lectures of Professor Richard Sutton, who forced us to think.

In tax, which I studied in both commerce and law, it was under Ian Williams where I came to understand the difference between taxable income and economic income, and between taxes on labour income and capital income.

Having made torts comprehensible, Professor Smillie was the star of what was then administrative law.

In family law, Ian Muir, with that twinkle in his eye, taught us Death by Adoption.

I was in class when Nigel Jameson responded to criticisms from the OULSA that his jurisprudence lectures were opaque. He famously delivered the first part of his next lecture in fluent Russian, and then flashed a torch and rang a bell to highlight his important points. And another day he casually asked if it was someone in that class who released a greased piglet into the hall of his home opposite Olveston. Perhaps that mystery can finally be solved by a confession in the next few days.

Not everything was rosy. Women were just starting to come through as lecturers, but it was still harder for them to get ahead here as it was in private practice. Minorities also were not well represented.

Dunedin Community Law Centre

The transition from practising lawyers lecturing part-time to full-time academics had largely occurred. But as a consequence the professionals course was next to useless.

In response, students set about creating the Dunedin Community Law Centre. The Faculty saw this as criticism and was in the main opposed, though Geoff Hall, Ian Muir and a youngish Mark Henaghan were supportive.

A group led by John McManamy got student holiday jobs sponsored by another university department to give it a crack. Gail Macassey, Maggie Flynn, Kevin Pullar, Dave McNaughton and Susie Hanan were the other main drivers and I was a ring in.

John was from the USA and had a US book called something like “How to Run your own Publicity”. Having secured a generous donation from the Russel B Henderson Trust, we invited Professor Sim to an event, and asked him in the moment to accept the donation on our behalf. The Otago Daily Times photographer's flash flashed. News was made, the Faculty came in behind, and a student-led community law centre was founded.

Sessions followed on interviewing technique, how to deal with upset clients, and how to write a letter. It was so popular that senior students had to ballot to be involved. The Dunedin Community Law Centre ran under the supervision of practicing Dunedin lawyers volunteering their time in the evenings. It has helped meet legal needs for decades since.

Teachers, researchers, and improving the law

I return to our legal teachers and researchers to whom we, your students, all owe debts of gratitude. We share a love of the law and at times frustration with it.

I acknowledge the work you have also done for the Law Foundation and the Law Commission to improve it. I thank those who are willing to participate in the media – explaining important legal issues to the public. Please do more of that. In this age of social media and conspiracy, the rule of law must be understood.

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