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Characters in the law

08 February 2019 - By David Sparks

I loved the article about the bombing of ‘Dickie’ Singer (LawTalk 924, December 2018).

Four elderly men sitting on a bench

It brought back a few memories of characters in the law from days gone by, of which there were rather a lot.

Others that spring readily to my mind – and not in any particular order – include Michael (‘Mick’) Robinson, a well-known divorce lawyer in Auckland in the 50s/early 60s who later got struck off but who still would come to court, sit in the public gallery and shout instructions to whoever was appearing for ‘his’ clients. I actually met him a couple of times as a teenager when my mother consulted him on her matrimonial issues and took me along as well. I recall a larger-than-life person with a booming voice.

Another was Leonard Leary, Eb Leary’s father. Len took us for classes on legal ethics in our last year in law school back in the 60s and told us some fascinating tales of his involvements in various famous trials.

Then there was Bryce Hart the Auckland lawyer and wit. Anecdotally he would sometimes swear affidavits on a copy of Best Bets if a Bible was not handy. There was a legendary Auckland Magistrate called Freddy Hunt who was known for his rather brusque manner – not the only one, as I well recall others from the 60s in the then Auckland Magistrate’s Court where we young lawyers learned our craft. On one occasion Bryce was apparently appearing for a client with numerous previous ‘form’ for bookmaking. Bryce told Mr Hunt that this was his client’s hundredth appearance for bookmaking whereupon His Worship said “What am I supposed to do, stand up and cheer?”

When Sir Joseph Ward was Prime Minister (Liberal Party), Bryce Hart was appearing in the Magistrate’s Court for a chap of the same name who was charged with urinating in a public place. The Magistrate asked Bryce if his client was related to the PM. Bryce said “Not as far as I know Your Worship, but he is a liberal peer nonetheless!”

Others of course would be great counsel like the late Peter Williams QC and Kevin Ryan QC. Well worth listening to in the famous Courtroom Number 1 in the old Auckland Supreme Court (as it then was).

I would be interested in hearing other readers’ memories.


David Sparks is Senior Solicitor with Baywide Community Law Service in Whakatane. We would also enjoy hearing of any (publishable) anecdotes of lawyers and courtrooms past. An email to  editor@lawsociety.org.nz will work perfectly.

Last updated on the 8th February 2019