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Slow-cooking military enthusiast fears loss of courtroom history

22 June 2017 - By Jock Anderson

A clash between retaining Christchurch courtroom history and sterile “new build” courts has Canterbury lawyers up in arms, with one warning against reducing the courts to “a formica table.”

There is no place in a new Christchurch justice precinct for the High Court’s 150-year-old dais, nor is there deemed to be space on courtroom walls for paintings of High Court judges.

Instead, the Ministry of Justice says the dais is to be gifted to the Canterbury Museum.

Name Amy Louise (Amy) Keir
Born Christchurch
Age 36
Entry to law Graduated BA (Political Science) and LLB (Hons) from Canterbury University in 2005. Admitted in 2005.
Workplace Amy Keir – Barrister, Christchurch.
Speciality area Employment, health and safety and insurance.

But civil barrister Amy Keir, a member of the Canterbury-Westland Branch Council of the New Zealand Law Society, says when the move is made from the existing Durham St courts to the new precinct, the historic dais will be lost to the courts.

Photo of Amy Keir

“At least we now know what is to happen to the historic dais but this is still universally regarded by the profession as a tragedy,” says Amy, who recently set up her own civil practice in Christchurch.

“Many lawyers remain unhappy. The people in Wellington who make these decisions don’t understand what they mean or their significance.”

Amy says the Canterbury-Westland branch of the Law Society was told the new building was not tall enough to accommodate the dais.

“But it is a court dais, it belongs in a court.”

The branch is also looking for a place to re-home portraits of judges – which have long hung in the High Court – but which the Law Society has been told there is no space for on the walls of the new High Court.

“It seems a power behind a desk in Wellington has decided judges’ portraits are not welcome in Court,” Amy says.

She says some balance needs to be found around the power and authority of the Courts, lawyers and judges to maintain gravitas and significance, without reducing the Court to some sort of “a formica table”.

In a statement, the ministry says the dais is an “important part of Canterbury’s legal history” and it is delighted Canterbury Museum has agreed to take ownership of it.

Working from home

Married to Hamish, a Christchurch detective, and with sons William (4) and Alfie (2), Amy - who was previously at Young Hunter and at Lane Neave before that - was always interested in going out on her own.

“I enjoy litigation and wanted the opportunity to work for myself in a way that was a bit more flexible or responsive than a 9 to 5 office environment.

“There’s a lot of writing and commentary at the moment about the future of work and I think the law firm model is a bit behind. I can be a bit more responsive while the family is young and it’s a good time to start a practice.

“What time is not filled getting my business up and running I can use to good effect with my boys.”

Working from home since Easter, Amy initially imagined that, after leaving a city office, she would be back working in the city.

“Lots of people told me working from home was hard - hard to stay focused and hard to get good separation between work and leisure.

“I think the reality is I am a much better lawyer than I ever was a housewife. So what needs to be done around the house doesn’t seem to distract me at all. And I love not having a commute. When there is work to be done I can do it in the evening, morning, or middle of the day.”

In the north west of Christchurch – “from an office upstairs away from the chaos” – she has made more useful connections with professionals in the area.

The eldest of two daughters – her sister is a nurse – Amy is the first lawyer in her family.

Her parents met while Mum (now a laboratory technician) was on the checkout and Dad (now in IT) was packing bags at Woolworths in Blenheim and moved to Christchurch when they married. They relocated to New Plymouth 10 years ago.

“We were probably the only family in New Zealand where the parents knew more about technology than the kids.”

Boatie family

“Hamish and I have a motor boat – not one of the really obnoxious noisy things – and enjoy getting on the water, water skiing and fishing, especially at Lake Brunner and Lake Benmore.

“The West Coast is the most beautiful place in the world. Before our children we used to camp out - now we borrow other people’s places. It’s a gorgeous, stunning place.

“Lake Brunner is the warmest lake in the South Island. The lake is very dark from tannin from trees falling in the lake. And it doesn’t get any mountain run-off.

“Having two small children limits our outside interests but we enjoy spending time in forests and at the beach.

“Running is my main sporting interest and I’ve done half a dozen half marathons. The first was the best at 1hr 45min. Since then I’ve fluctuated between that and 2hr 15min. All commendable times.”

Teaching herself to knit four years ago – “it helped keep me sane while on maternity leave” – and in addition to her work on the Law Society branch council, Amy is also involved with Plunket and her local kindy.

With a life-long interest in things military, she joined the Territorial Force as a specialist legal officer after she qualified, but left after she had children because she could not make the commitment required.

“Weaponry is part of the territorial training but trainers always hated it when specialists came out. I think we made a better contribution behind a desk than we did at the range.

“My grandfather was a soldier and I had a tradition from a very young age of attending Anzac Day parades with him. I have always had an interest in military history.

“Individually, Grandad wasn’t a hero. He was just an ordinary guy doing a pretty ordinary job. He was in a support company following everyone around. But it is special because he’s family and was part of a bigger story.”

A big trip eight years ago backpacking through Cambodia, Thailand and Vietnam allowed Amy to indulge her interest in Vietnam’s military history.

“I’d like to take the kids to Europe before they start high school. Italy is a must see - Grandad fought there. I interviewed him about six years ago and wrote down his story.”

Trash

“I’m horrified to say I read almost entirely trashy novels – Ken Follet, John Grisham and I love Jeffrey Archer –­ he writes an interesting saga.

“I am influenced by my parents’ musical tastes - Elton John and The Beatles. I went to see Dr Hook when they were here recently. A real crack-up and lots of fun. Lead singer Dennis Locorriere (68) danced around a bit like my four-year-old does.

“I learned to play the keyboard as a child and always aspired to be pianist but have never done it and I don’t play music. My husband acquired me a piano at huge personal cost for a wedding present and my goal was to teach myself. I can read the treble clef but can’t read the bass. I keep meaning to commit enough time to become proficient.

“We watch Netflix occasionally – Suits and Orange is the New Black, but nothing that has captured my attention recently. Suits is the first legal drama that captured me – I usually get so frustrated with legal drama, it’s so unreal. A trial for murder happens three days after the crime and it’s all over in an afternoon.

“We have a dog called Bruce, a Bichon Frise crossed with the cheeky dog next door and part West Highland terrier. He’s a little white thing but not too horrible and doesn’t yap. The terrier tones down the Bichon. The worst Bruce has ever done is a chicken – embarrassing - on a friend’s farm.

“I drive a small Ford Focus and we have a Jeep Cherokee 4x4 which carts all the family and tows the boat like a dream but we can only afford to run it at the weekend.

“My dinner guests would change a lot. Presidents Obama and Trump and Prince Harry, that would be fun.

“I’m in the slow cooking movement. I could spend all day chopping, dicing and sautéing, and cook meat slowly all day, probably make a ragout and pasta with the whole house smelling of garlic and onions. Washed down with a Hawke’s Bay Chardonnay and a Central Otago Pinot.”

Young ambitions

“I think I was eight when I first told someone I was going to be a lawyer. I suspect someone observed my argumentative nature and thought ‘she’d make a good lawyer’.

“I can’t remember a time in my life when I wasn’t going to be a lawyer. Hard to remember what it was that really turned me on about it. I enjoy argument for argument sake. And debating with people.

“I don’t need to win an argument. I enjoy the intellectual challenges formulating the arguments as much as I enjoy the winning of an argument. I like that part of my job.

“I like being a lawyer and never wanted to do anything else, but if I wasn’t I might have done investigative journalism – but not for a daily rag.

“If I won Lotto it wouldn’t matter, I would probably set up some beautiful lodge with a stunning restaurant and do hospitality.

“And I can’t let you publish what I think of the standards of the Christchurch Press. It is unfortunate our population is not big enough to have multiple credible sources and the news gets so mixed up with things that are not news.”

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Last updated on the 22nd June 2017