Profession honours a legal and literary luminary

The life and times of Associate Professor Bernard Brown were celebrated at a dinner hosted by ADLS at Auckland’s Northern Club last Thursday 17 October. The great and the good of New Zealand’s legal community were joined by a large number of Bernie Brown acolytes to honour the man whose sharp mind and devastating wit have made him everyone’s favourite academic over many decades.

Among the key speakers were colleague Peter Watts QC, the Rt Hon Dame Sian Elias and Dean of the University of Auckland’s School of Law, Andrew Stockley. His Honour Judge Adams was one of several to read poetry (see poem on page 5, written as an homage to the great man).

Clearly not one to throw things away, Associate Professor Brown delighted the audience early on by presenting Dr Rodney Harrison QC with an exam paper from the late 1960s for which Dr Harrison had gained an A grade - to which he quipped, “I was wondering when I’d get this back”. Associate Professor Brown rejoined immediately “I was checking your footnotes”.

Dr Harrison went on to deliver one of many warm and humorous speeches of the night, proving his ‘A’ was merited as he detailed the many intricacies of legal history as taught by the “somewhat dishevelled Englishman” who has entertained students at the University of Auckland for over 50 years with his “rich fund of embroidered whimsy”.

Chief among the anecdotes were references to Associate Professor Brown’s possibly apocryphal tales of pre-University life. He purported to have been at kindergarten with the Kray twins, whose later foray into crime is legendary. Dr Harrison reported: “Being bullied and tortured by the fledgling Krays is said by Bernard to have sparked his later interest in criminology.” Associate Professor Brown was apparently also proud of telling how, as an RAF Legal Services Officer in Singapore, he had conducted 32 defences at Courts Martial, resulting in 32 convictions.

Dr Harrison echoed the thoughts of many present in describing the very high regard and affection in which Associate Professor Brown has long been held, even garnering a special mention in the autobiography of former Prime Minister David Lange (whose Master of Laws degree he supervised) as the person to whom Lange said he owed a lot of his academic achievement, thanks to Associate Professor Brown’s scholarship and wisdom. The evening continued in a convivial manner with poetry readings and the sort of revelry appropriate for a notorious bon viveur such as Bernie Brown.


Saint Bernard dog (for Bernard Brown*)

Words have more edges where time slides;
tides of old laughters pitch the page;
the fetch of language jogs us
and we are wrecked...

This picnic began in ancient English
meadows, wildflowers under a morning
hedge, and I think there may have been cows, red
brown, chewing their cud, and a swan, I’m sure
a liquid swan was there somehow but now
the shadow of pohutukawa spills
across our shared remains, its soft stroke
anonymous as wine. We bob in exile
harbour with shaggy tides dreaming tropic
between wet jungle and birdwood garden…

Where time slides, words show their edges;
echoes of old laughters pitch the page
back to blank; at every anchor
the fetch of language jogs us; cucumber
sandwiches and mince pies pack up
and we are wrecked by our friendship.

A shaggy dog bounds large across the slope -
throaty barrel proffers barking joy
in glorious mayhem; we are wrecked:
no point naming our terms because things count
against us; we are wrecked
by this friendship, wanting to be held longer, waiting.

By Judge John Adams, delivered at the dinner to honour Associate Professor Brown

*Bernard observed how things are apprehended by their names – give a thing a name and it becomes that thing: Brown, Bernard J. Shibboleths of Law: Reification, Plain-English and Popular Legal Symbolism. Legal Research Foundation Inc. (Publication No. 27) 1987. This poem reflects the theory.

Bernard Brown Dinner 1
Associate Professor Bernard Brown, the Hon Dame Catherine Tizard, John Moody, Professor Margaret Wilson and the Rt Hon Paul East QC

Bernard Brown Dinner 2
Richard Wood, Heather Rogers and Anthony Rogers

Bernard Brown Dinner 3
Dr Rodney Harrison QC, Hon Dame Judith Potter and ADLS President Frank Godinet

Bernard Brown Dinner 4
Associate Professor Treasa Dunworth and Her Hon Judge Lisa Tremewan

Bernard Brown Dinner 5
Peter Spring and the Rt Hon Sir Edmund Thomas QC

Bernard Brown Dinner 6
Anita Killeen, Karen Sherry and Bernie Brown

Bernard Brown Dinner 7
Guyon Foley, Jacque Lethbridge and Geoff Hardy

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