New Zealand Law Society

Navigation menu

Bagpipe-playing church chorister gets Coast with his Cream

08 February 2018

Classical trumpeter, cathedral singer and rock band bass-playing barrister Jonathan Krebs has faced many challenges as one-time prosecutor and now defender but none quite as daunting as this weekend – when he and fellow Napier lawyer Carl Rowling tackle the gruelling Coast to Coast.

“I am currently fair crapping myself because Carl - a son of former Prime Minister Bill Rowling - and I had a fit of enthusiasm in September and entered a team,” says Jonathan.

Name Jonathan Grant (Jonathan) Krebs LRSM
Born Hastings
Age 54
Entry to law Graduated LLB from Victoria University in 1988. Admitted in 1988.
Workplace Barrister at Shakespeare Chambers, Napier, with tenancy at Blackstone Chambers, Auckland.
Specialty area

Criminal and civil.

“My initials are JK so we entered the two-day event as the JK Rowling team. I do the cycle on the first day from the West Coast, while Carl has a short trot over the Southern Alps. The next day I do a short cycle then kayak down the Waimakariri River and Carl cycles into Christchurch.

“Sport is too time-consuming for me, and it was apparent from my school days I was not going to be a gifted sportsman. But I got into cycling, have done a few triathlons and a couple of half marathons. I trained up for a half ironman but my Achilles heel snapped from over-training.

Jonathan Krebs

“One thing I can say - and even Richie McCaw can’t say this - I won every single game of rugby I played. I played one. I was tall at primary school, they put me at lock, I didn’t like it but we won. I switched to soccer after that as a goalkeeper.

“I’m not too bad a golfer. But I heard someone say once that the only time I hit two balls straight together was when I stood on the rake by the bunker.”

A past president of the Hawke’s Bay branch of the New Zealand Law Society, convenor of the NZLS criminal law sub-committee, a visiting justice for prisons, a member of the legal aid tribunal and a regular contributor to Jim Mora’s Panel show on Radio New Zealand, Jonathan has never been far from the news – particularly in recent years for his work in convincing the Privy Council to quash the murder convictions of Teina Pora in 2015.

Formerly a Crown prosecutor in Auckland and Napier, he became a barrister in 2006.

The first lawyer in his family, his late father Bruce was an accountant and treasurer and town clerk for the Napier City Council. His mother Heather – now 85 – worked in an accountant’s office.

Brother Jeremy is an endocrinologist and associate professor of medicine in Wellington.

Jonathan’s wife Kathryn is an occupational therapist in Napier, his oldest daughter Harriet (23) has just finished a law and science degree and started as a law clerk at Blackstone Chambers in Auckland this year. Middle daughter Victoria is starting law and psychology at Otago University this month and Madeline (14) is at Napier Girls’ High School.

“We went to Auckland Zoo when Madeline was quite little and she was very impressed by the people who fed the Tasmanian devil so she wanted to be a zoologist, but now she wants to be a vet.”

Music in the blood  

“The girls are all musical – Victoria plays the cello, Harriet the flute and Madeline plays the piano, oboe, pipe organ and sings as well.

“My famous great aunt was Blenheim-born Rosina Buckman (1881-1948), coloratura and principal soprano in Covent Garden and a professor of singing at the Royal Academy of Music, who sang into the 1930s and 1940s.”

Which is a clue to Jonathan’s other passion – music.

He took a year off after school because he wasn’t sure if he wanted to do law or follow a career in music.

“I come from a very musical family on my mother’s side so I was learning the piano from six or seven. When I developed asthma the doctors suggested some wind instrument might help my breathing so I shifted to the cornet, and later the classical trumpet, and liked it.

“I did all the exams, including a performance exam, and got my Letters … Licentiate of the Royal Schools of Music (LRSM) in 1982.

“I considered going to London to study at the Royal College of Music but didn’t go. I had to decide if I was going to pursue a career as a professional trumpet player or as a lawyer. In the end I could be a lawyer during the day and a trumpeter at night if I wanted to but it could not be the other way round.”

A lover of the Baroque music period, Jonathan rates composers Hayden and Scarlatti among his favourites, and has a collection of trumpets he plays from time to time, but no longer in any particular orchestra or brass band. “Work doesn’t permit regular rehearsals.”

A fearsome noise

He still plays the bagpipes. “Usually on New Year’s Eve and after a couple of single malts - you can make a fearsome noise. My mother’s side were Scottish from West Calder, a coal mining town south west of Edinburgh.”

West Calder produced Laurence Ennis, the chief engineer of the Sydney Harbour Bridge, and Robert McKeen, a former Speaker of the New Zealand House of Representatives.

A classical tenor, Jonathan performed in a stage shows and in Auckland sang with semi-professional choir Viva Voce. He sings in the choir at Napier’s St John’s Anglican Cathedral and with daughter Madeline, who plays the pipe organ, also sings in fundraisers.

His classical singing is also from the Baroque period, reeling off composers such as Giovanni Palestrina, Harold Darke, Thomas Tallis, Claudio Monteverdi and more recently Herbert Sumsion. “That beautiful oily fluid lyrical stuff that echoes around the cathedral. Not everybody’s cup of tea but I like it.”

“I tried a bit of jazz trumpet but it’s not my natural game as much as I would like it to be, but I have learnt the guitar a bit and play bass in a rock band for want of a better word.

“A group of dads met at one of my daughters’ school camps a few years ago. We took our guitars, amps, mics and harmonicas – jammed and gelled very well.”

After hooking in a drummer and calling themselves the Camp Dads the band changed its name to The Rentals when they got a pub gig. “We do dirty old rock stuff – Dragon, Black Seeds, The Doors and get into a bit of Cream.”

“I sing anything I am allowed to but we have a singer so I get stuck in the corner with my bass and harmonise.

“We are a seldom-rehearsed and fewer-gigged band but we have a couple of gigs in the next couple of months – 50th birthday parties, that age bracket, in and around Napier, but we are prepared to travel and our rates are very reasonable.”

Havana good time

“In September 1990 Kathryn and I took off for 16 months and travelled most of the time in Europe with a Eurorail pass – I love trains. We were three months on the go then worked in London for nine months, while doing little surgical raids into France, Holland, Wales, Ireland and everywhere else. We smashed Europe to pieces and took five months to come home through Africa, India, Thailand and Australia in time for Christmas 1991.

“We went to a wedding in Mexico last year and carried on to Cuba to see it before the Americans ruin it. I’ve wanted to go to Cuba for a long time. It’s not a relaxing holiday destination by any means but is an adventure.

“This time last year we were in London. We took the girls away for the once-in-a-lifetime Krebs family European trip. Seven weeks in Europe, finishing in St Petersburg and Moscow at end of January. I love both St Petersburg and Moscow.

“We were blown away by the beauty of the Abel Tasman a couple of years ago when we did a five-day family walk with another family, staying in huts. Hahei is a lovely beach and we like Kinloch in Taupo.”

“I’m reading so much at work I can’t be bothered with books. I’m a slow reader and like something decent with a bit of trash. I like Lee Childs’ Jack Reacher books. The way he writes is so incredibly gripping and I haven’t found a single spelling mistake or syntax error in any of his books. I’m a bit of a grammar nazi.

“I’m a great James Bond fan - Sean Connery set the benchmark but Daniel Craig comes pretty close. Skyfall is my favourite Bond film.

“We have a miniature Schnauzer called Max, who is nine in March and thinks he’s a Rottweiler.

“I drive a ten-year-old Lexus with 160,000km on the clock but also have a toy car, a dark blue Morgan 4/4. Built in 1986 in the 1936 style and one of only a couple in Hawke’s Bay. It comes out at the weekend and sunny days.

“My brother and I often discuss who we would have as dinner guests. We would probably have a barbecue with some very good red wine - Te Mata Coleraine. Nelson Mandela would top the list, with Bill Clinton, Bono, Emma Thompson and Angela Merkel.”

Radio Windy  

“With law I was one of the lucky people who managed to do okay at school without putting a huge amount of work into it. I enjoyed English, debating and being argumentative so law is a natural fit. I don’t think I would have enjoyed turning a hobby and a passion into a career. I would not want to be sick of my music.

“I nearly dropped out of law school to pursue a career in radio. I got a job at Radio Windy in the mid-80s, with Roger Gascoigne and others. I really loved it. I was doing all right and they offered me a full-time job.

“That’s why being on Jim Mora’s Panel appeals to me so much. But if I get sick of law I’m going to grow carrots because you drill a hole, put some seeds in, cover it up, water it a bit and six months later pull them out of the ground and sell them. You don’t have to go home and worry about it.”

Apart from his efforts on behalf of Teina Pora, successfully prosecuting Jules Mikus in 2002 for the abduction, rape and murder of six-year old Theresa Cormack in 1987, stands out.

Along with two other prosecutors he successfully prosecuted seven members of Auckland’s notorious Tukuafu family, who burgled to order. Facing more than 250 charges, the trial involved 17 lawyers and, at six and a half months, was the longest criminal jury trial in New Zealand history.

“My closing address started on November 8, 2001 and finished on November 22, 2001. It was an enormous trial.

“I would prefer to do a mixture of both prosecuting and defending but our system doesn’t permit that. It is worth looking at a change in the future that would result in people doing both.

“I think there’s a risk - and I’m not suggesting it happens – but there is certainly a risk that must be guarded against, that when you prosecute all the time you become a bit cynical and when you defend all the time there is a risk you tend to bark at every passing car.

“But I prefer defending, I’ve been out of the Crown for 12 years.”

Jonathan has recently taken over the widely-publicised Scott Watson Sounds murder case and has filed an application for the Royal prerogative of mercy to be exercised – an application previously declined. “Whether that remains how we approach it is yet to be seen but some fresh material has come to light and I am very firmly of the view it’s worth another look.”

He is also looking into another historic case of someone in custody for a homicide “he probably didn’t commit, but I am not authorised to talk about that”.

“I don’t want to be the lawyer who bangs on about miscarriages of justice but it’s something I get very passionate about and there are some examples.”

Last updated on the 8th February 2018