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Eighth lawyer Governor-General sworn in

28 September 2016 - By Geoff Adlam

Dame Patsy Reddy has been sworn in as New Zealand's 21st Governor-General, becoming the eighth lawyer to hold the office.

Dame Patsy graduated with an LLB from Victoria University of Wellington in 1976 and an LLM with first class honours in 1979. After working as a junior lecturer and then lecturer at the Victoria University law school, she joined the law firm Watts and Patterson (now Minter Ellison Rudd Watts) in 1982 and became the firm's first female partner in 1983. Dame Patsy specialised in tax, corporate and film law while at the firm. She joined Brierley Investments Ltd in 1987 initially as Group Legal Counsel and then as Group Manager for Special Projects. She was employed at Brierley Investments for 11 years and worked on large acquisition negotiations. Dame Patsy also worked as a chief Crown negotiator for Treaty of Waitangi settlements.

Photo of dame Patsy 
Dame Patsy Reddy, 21st Governor-General. 

Since the Earl of Liverpool became the first Governor-General of New Zealand in 1917, lawyers have made up a significant proportion of our Governors-General. The appearance of lawyers in the role has been symbolic of a major change in the office. Until the first lawyer was appointed to the role, Governors-General (and before them, the 14 Governors) were exclusively male, English-born and almost invariably came from the aristrocracy or were retired military commanders or retired politicians/colonial administrators.

Of the 12 New Zealanders appointed Governor-General, six have been lawyers. Of the others, Lord Freyberg (English-born but here from the age of two) started off as a dental assistant in Morrinsville before becoming a military commander, Sir Arthur Porritt was a surgeon, Sir Keith Holyoake a former Prime Minister and politician, Sir Paul Reeves a bishop, Dame Catherine Tizard a former Mayor and local body politician, and Sir Jerry Mateparae a former military commander.

The lawyers start arriving

The first lawyer appointed to the role was Charles Bathurst, the first Viscount Bledisloe, from 1930 to 1935. Bathurst (1867-1958) obtained a law degree from University College, Oxford in 1890 and was admitted to the Inner Temple in 1892 and also called to the bar. He practised as a barrister until entering Parliament in 1910 where he remained until 1928. Bathurst became Baron Bledisloe of Lydney in the County of Gloucester in 1918 and is best-known in New Zealand as the presenter of the Bledisloe Cup, a permanent piece of New Zealand Rugby Union furniture.

The only other English-born lawyer to have been Governor-General was Charles Lyttelton, 10th Viscount Cobham, who was Governor-General from 1957 to 1962. Lyttelton (1909-1977) graduated with a law degree from Cambridge University in 1932. It is possible that he did not practice as he became a first class cricketer in the 1930s, captaining Worcestershire from 1936 to 1939 and playing for the county in more than 90 games. A career in the military during World War II followed and his intention to enter Parliament was foiled when his father died in 1949 and he succeeded him as Viscount Cobham.

The New Zealand lawyers

Sir Edward (Denis) Blundell (1907-1984) became the 12th Governor-General from 1972 to 1977. Sir Denis went from Waitaki Boys' High School to Trinity College in Cambridge, graduating in law and being called to the English bar in 1929. He didn't practise in England and returned to New Zealand in 1930 to practise law, becoming a partner in Bell Gully from 1936 to 1968. Sir Denis was also President of the Wellington District Law Society in 1951, and in 1962 he became the 12th President of the New Zealand Law Society, holding that role until 1968.

Sir David Beattie (1924-2001) was Governor-General from 1980 to 1985. Sir David was actually born in Sydney, but was brought up in Takapuna. He graduated with a law degree from the University of Auckland in 1948 and entered private practice. He was appointed to the bench of the Supreme (now High) Court in 1969, retiring as a judge in 1980.

Sir Michael Hardie Boys was Governor-General from 1996 to 2001. He attended Victoria University and graduated with a BA and LLB before entering private practice in Wellington. He was appointed a Justice of the HIgh Court in 1980, and to the Court of Appeal in 1989 until his retirement from the bench in 1996. 

Dame Silvia Cartwright was Governor-General from 2001 to 2006. She graduated with an LLB from Otago University in 1967. She entered private practice until her appointment as a District Court Judge in 1987. In 1989 she became the first woman to be Chief District Court Judge, and in 1993 she was the first woman appointed to the High Court.

Sir Anand Satyanand was Governor-General from 2006 to 2011. Sir Anand attended Auckland University and graduated LLB in 1970. After his admission that year he worked in private practice for Greig Bourke and Kettelwell and then for the Crown Law Office. He was appointed as a Judge of the District Court in 1982. In 1995 Sir Anand was appointed Ombudsman, and he was appointed for a second term in 2000.

Not to forget the Administrators

When the Governor-General is unavailable, someone must act in their place. The Administrator of the Government fills in, and is required to take an oath similar to the Governor-General and may exercise all the powers of the Governor-General.

The Chief Justice is the designated Administrator, followed by the next most senior member of the New Zealand judiciary. 

Since the 19th century, a number of members of the judiciary have acted in place of the Governor (until 1917) or Governor-General. This can include giving the Royal assent to legislation.

The Chief Justices who have acted as Administrators (often more than once) are:

Sir George Arney (1810-1883): Second Chief Justice of New Zealand.

Sir James Prendergast (1826-1921): Third Chief Justice of New Zealand.

Sir Robert Stout (1844-1930): Sir Robert was the 13th Premier of New Zealand and also was later the fourth Chief Justice. Having also acted as Administrator, he is the only person who has ever carried out all three roles: Executive, Judiciary and Crown.

Sir Michael Myers (1873-1950): Sixth Chief Justice of New Zealand.

Sir Humphrey O'Leary (1886-1953): Seventh Chief Justice of New Zealand.

Sir Harold Barrowclough (1894-1972): Eighth Chief Justice of New Zealand.

Sir Richard Wild (1912-1978): Ninth Chief Justice of New Zealand.

Sir Ronald Davison (1920-2015): Tenth Chief Justice of New Zealand.

Dame Sian Elias: Twelth and current Chief Justice of New Zealand. Dame Sian has acted as Administrator on several occasions.

Last updated on the 16th September 2019