New Zealand Law Society

Navigation menu

Sir Bruce Slane a great communicator

08 January 2017

The death of Sir Bruce Slane means the legal profession has lost a great communicator and campaigner for individual rights, New Zealand Law Society President Kathryn Beck says.

Sir Bruce died on 7 January 2017, aged 85. In a long career of service to the public and the legal profession he was 19th President of the New Zealand Law Society, from 1982 to 1985. Sir Bruce was New Zealand’s first Privacy Commissioner, from 1992 to 2003, and also chaired the Broadcasting Tribunal from 1977 until its abolition in 1990.

“As our first Privacy Commissioner Sir Bruce established the framework for our current privacy codes of practice and laws to preserve individual rights to privacy,” Ms Beck says. “Alongside this was his work with the Broadcasting Tribunal, where he promoted the public right to a free and balanced exchange of information.

“In the legal profession he was renowned for his openness and great communication skills. While President of the New Zealand Law Society he wrote a regular column in the national magazine LawTalk and ranged widely and entertainingly over many different topics.

“This continued afterwards and he was also a newspaper columnist, hosted radio talkback, and was a prominent member of the Communications and Media Law Association.

“His passion for preservation of individual rights and freedoms was a hallmark of his life. This included time serving as a council member of the International Bar Association.

“Our society owes a great debt to Sir Bruce for the contribution he made to the difficult task of balancing individual rights to privacy with the need for an open society where there is a right to obtain information on matters affecting everyone.”

An obituary for Sir Bruce is available here.

Law Society Tribute

Judicial Conduct Commissioner Alan Ritchie began a long career as the New Zealand Law Society's chief executive in 1981, just before Sir Bruce became President. He paid the following tribute at Sir Bruce's funeral in Auckland on 17 January 2016:

"Until 1981 I was a bungalow conveyancer in Ashburton. Not, probably,  a very good bungalow conveyancer. How I became, in that year, the Deputy Secretary and, later, Secretary of the New Zealand Law Society  I’m not too sure. But, from those positions I was privileged, over the next 25 years, or more, to absorb and admire the efforts of the legal profession’s elected leaders – none more outstanding nor more talented than Sir Bruce Slane whether on the New Zealand legal stage or internationally.

"I have a strong sense of being  joined in this tribute , if not in person in this Church, then certainly and generously in spirit, by

Peter Clapshaw
Graham Cowley
Judith Potter
Austin Forbes
Ian Haynes
Christine Grice
Chris Darlow
The late John Marshall
Jonathan Temm
Chris Moore
Kathryn Beck

"It is important for me to mention all those people – the successors to Bruceas Presidents of the New Zealand Law Society -  because they all bear sure testimony  to the magnitude of the Slane contribution to the regulated legal profession. Not one of them will have taken the reins without being steeped in the Slane legacy which is, in the plainest terms, that had he not  the insight, wit and skill to build on the platform established by his work with his immediate predecessor as President , Sir Thomas Eichelbaum, the profession’s  vital role in its own regulation and destiny would have been deeply imperilled.

"There will be many here who remember the opening up of the disciplinary processes, the removal of the scales of professional charges and the abolition of the rules against touting and advertising – all wisely and firmly promoted by Bruce.

"They will remember, too, Bruce’s fearless work with the media and politicians  in the profession’s cause. Think, for a moment, of his own bold fronting of the television advertisements about  - 'a new fairer better way' of fee charging by lawyers. And think of the new ground he broke by crossing Bowen Street in his many excursions into the political domain.

"The point of all this is that had the profession not confronted these things, its outlook in the wake of the behavioural atrocities soon to follow – Renshaw and Edwards are just two of the many memorable examples  - would have been dire indeed.

"After his presidency, Sir Bruce watched all that unfold not only with his inimitable supportive concern but with eminently justifiable confidence that the profession would emerge strengthened. And, it did.

"The debt owed to this man is profound. Lawyers everywhere know that - not least the bungalow conveyancers of Ashburton."

Last updated on the 26th January 2017