Law News remembers two former judges and past Auckland District Law Society Presidents

ADLS and Law News have been saddened by the recent passing of two former judges – the Hon Colin Nicholson CNZM QC and Judge Simon Grant Lockhart QC – both of whom also served, during their time in the legal profession, as Presidents of the Auckland District Law Society.

Here we pay tribute to both and honour their service to the law and to the judiciary.

The Hon Colin Maurice Nicholson CNZM QC

The Hon Justice Colin Nicholson

The Hon Colin Maurice Nicholson CNZM QC passed away in Auckland late last month, aged 79.

After graduating with an LLB from Auckland University College in 1959 and being admitted to the bar in 1960, the Hon Colin Nicholson’s legal career progressed quickly. He became a partner at Meredith Connell (as it now is) in 1965, before moving to the independent bar in 1977 and taking silk in 1979.

During his time as a barrister sole, he conducted a number of notable cases, including acting for David Tamihere in the Swedish tourist murder case, and helped found (and for many years chaired) well-known Auckland chambers Shortland Chambers. His dedication to the job extended to many hours of involvement in the legal profession outside of his day-to-day work, and saw him preside over the Auckland District Law Society in 1989 and also serve in various capacities at the New Zealand Law Society, including as Vice-President for Auckland in 1990.

The Hon Colin Nicholson was appointed as a District Court judge in Auckland in 1995 and as a Youth Court judge in 1996, before being elevated to the High Court bench in 1998, where he sat until 2009. Between 2005 and 2012, he went on to sit as a judge in the High Court of the Cook Islands. In 2006, he was honoured as a Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit.

Judge Simon Grant Lockhart QC

His Honour Judge Lockhart

Former District Court Judge Simon Grant Lockhart QC sadly passed away earlier this month.

Judge Lockhart was admitted to the Bar in 1959. He was a partner in Auckland firm Jackson Russell before going out as a barrister and being appointed Queen’s Counsel in 1982. During his time in practice, he appeared for the defence in approximately 50 murder trials and several major defamation and fraud trials. He also served (at various times) as President and a Council Member of the Auckland District Law Society and as Chairman of its Legal Aid Assignment Committee, as well as serving as Vice President and a Council Member of NZLS and on NZLS’s Disciplinary Tribunal.

Judge Lockhart was appointed to the Auckland District Court in 1996 where he had a distinguished judicial career, in both civil and criminal jurisdictions, until retiring from the bench in 2007. At that point, he was appointed to the Weathertight Homes Tribunal, which was established under the Weathertight Homes Resolution Services Act 2006 to adjudicate leaky home claims.

Judge Lockhart sat for the final time as a District Court judge in 2007, with his “illustrious, selfless career in the law and a decade of exemplary judicial service” honoured at a special sitting of the Court. Speakers who paid tribute to him included then-Crown Prosecutor Simon Moore, then-President of the Auckland District Law Society, Gary Gotlieb, and the then-Immediate Past President of the Criminal Bar, Peter Winter.

The Hon Justice Moore (as he now is) told those in attendance that at the time of Judge Lockhart’s appointment to the bench, he was the “undisputed leader of the criminal bar in the city”, and commented on a number of the cases in which he had either appeared or presided over.

“A cursory electronic search of the NZLR database returns 34 hits under the heading ‘Lockhart appearing as counsel’. Many of those cases are noteworthy because of their high public profile or the significance of the contribution which they made to the development of the law in this country; and not just the criminal law. The list of cases mentioned provides an insight into the wealth of experience and talent which you brought to the Bench on your appointment.”

The same database search apparently also produced 36 judgments attributed to “Judge S G Lockhart QC” since his appointment in 1996. “They are equally eclectic, but even a cursory examination shows that on the Bench, Your Honour invested the same wisdom, talent and depth of legal reasoning which characterised your long and distinguished career at the Bar.”

“As an example of the eclectic range of your practice, mention should be made of Re: T where Your Honour, as counsel, acted for an applicant, who although born male, had undergone a sex change operation. Your Honour courageously, but unsuccessfully, challenged the Registrar- General of Births’ refusal to amend the register to record your client as a female.

“You have also brought great style to the Bench. You are debonair with more than just a hint of the theatrical. These are qualities which you have used to great effect. Although you could never be described as an interventionist judge, you have not been shy to let counsel, and at times witnesses, know your thinking.”

Gary Gotlieb noted that Judge Lockhart had been actively involved in law society affairs prior to his appointment to the bench, and that up to his appointment, even as a QC, Judge Lockhart was still prepared to do defence work on legal aid as a public service although it was a low payment compared to what he would usually receive.

Peter Winter described Judge Lockhart as a “lawyers’ judge”. “There are judges who rarely see things the way counsel does. They are best described as pro Crown, or pro Defence, if you are on the other side. There are judges who often see it your way. They are best described as being good judges. There are judges who are usually right on the law. They are best described as being difficult to appeal.

“Then there are judges, just a very few judges, who are usually always right, and who are not often appealed. They are not always on the side of your client, but usually they are always on your side. These are lawyers’ judges. Simon Lockhart is one of these.”

[Comments excerpted from Law News Issue 3, 2 February 2007.]

ADLS extends every sympathy to the friends and family of both the Hon Colin Nicholson and Judge Lockhart at this time.

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