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Southern chill no deterrent for milestone QC

22 August 2019 - By Jock Anderson

Fiona Guy Kidd, a yachtie lured to law after a tour of old London legal establishments, is getting used to life down on the farm and being Invercargill’s first Queen’s Counsel.

Southland winter hit home earlier this month when she returned from the Criminal Bar Association conference in Auckland, by way of Queenstown and a hire car, after flights into Invercargill were cancelled because of snow.

“The kids were making snowmen at home,” says Fiona.

NameFiona Elizabeth (Fiona) Guy Kidd QC
BornHenderson, Auckland
Age50
Entry to lawGraduated LLB (Honours) from Otago University and LLM (Virginia). Admitted in New Zealand in 1992 and 2003 in New South Wales.
WorkplaceBarrister in her own Montrose Chambers, Invercargill.
Speciality areaCriminal law

Fiona regards being Invercargill’s first QC as something “pretty special” – more so by being called to the Inner Bar on her 50th birthday.

Fiona Guy Kidd

Her 27-year legal career has included spells as a civil litigator in Auckland and a Crown prosecutor in Sydney, before moving to Invercargill.

After two and a half years at Russell McVeagh in Auckland, handling commercial and civil litigation, Fiona went to the University of Virginia in Charlottesville – founded by Thomas Jefferson in 1819 – to do her Masters degree.

“After I left school I spent a year in England working and visited Oxford and Cambridge. I had an English experience and I wanted to experience life in America. That’s why I chose America over England.

“There’s a group of networking New Zealanders who have been to Virginia over the years. I contacted them and was shown photographs by Bruce Gray QC and Adam Ross QC, who had been there before me.

“I was attracted to it through that. I liked that it was a university town like Dunedin rather than a big city.

“Virginia was close enough to Washington DC to have interesting speakers come to talk to us.

“When I got back from Virginia I did about 18 months as a junior barrister to David Williams QC, and had a very junior involvement in the Wine Box inquiry.

“He gave me experience in the High Court and Court of Appeal, and the opportunity to go with him to the Privy Council on the Lion Nathan v CC Bottlers contract case in 1996.”

Deer farm

“My parents are retired to Katikati, in Bay of Plenty. My mother, Anne, was a home economics teacher and my father Kerry was a lecturer at Auckland College of Education. I have no brothers or sisters.”

Fiona, who moved to Invercargill in 2011, is married to Hamish Kidd, a Southlander and civil engineer who runs his own business, HJK Management.

“Hamish is the reason I am here. We have sons Robert (13) and Cameron (11).”

After living in suburban Invercargill, the family moved a few weeks ago to what was Hamish’s grandfather’s farm, which they had earlier bought, at Forest Hill, near Lochiel in northern Southland.

The 100 hectare hill farm backs on to Forest Hill nature reserve. Traditionally a sheep farm, it switched to deer and the farm is currently leased out with dry stock – “little cows”.

“We are living in the farmhouse, have got a garden and took back a paddock so the boys if they want to have plenty of room to get a motorbike or a dog. Tonight they are planning on using their boogie boards to toboggan down the hill in all the snow.”

About 25 minutes drive north of Invercargill, Fiona describes the move as “a one-year experiment to see what it would be like living out there”.

“This is probably the worst time of the year. We’ve had the rain and mud and short days but it can only get better. We have a lovely view from the house down over the Southland plains; on a good day from the top of the hill you can see down to Stewart Island.

Photo of Fiona Guy Kidd QC

“I am not musical and cannot play any instruments. I like a good boogie now and then - old music … Abba, disco, English band New Order. I also listen to Ed Sheeran, Dunedin band Six60, and classic Kiwi music such as Dave Dobbyn.

“I don’t get a chance to read except on holiday and then it’s trashy crime novels. I’m still trying to read through all of the John Grisham books, and have half-finished The Lincoln Lawyer.

“We don’t get to the movies but have been watching the spy drama The Americans on television.”

The trailer sailer

The family loved being chilled out and warm at Cable Bay and Coopers Beach in Northland in January, but stayed south over Easter.

“We have recently bought a 40-year-old second-hand Bonito Aquarius 22ft trailer sailer called Kari-Val and took that to Lake Te Anau at Easter with the boys. We had four days sailing around there, which was lovely and peaceful.

“I grew up sailing on Hauraki Gulf with my parents on a Reactor 25, but this was the first time in our own yacht. We previously hired a yacht in the Marlborough Sounds.

“With a trailer sailer you back right on to the beach and it’s almost like camping. We have camp fires on the beach and the boys go out with torches to see eels.

“So we managed our first solo excursion in that. We are hoping we might take it to the Sounds another time, or if we get really adventurous go over to Stewart Island.”

A legal tour in London swayed Fiona to study law. “I always enjoyed geography at school, and was involved in debating. I kept debating going at university and met a lot of wonderful people through that.

“Before I went to England I was going to study geography but when I was in England I did a legal tour of London and found it fascinating. Seeing the old courthouses, the Inns of Court, the Old Bailey and everyone scurrying around in their robes - that was the thing that made me decide to do law.”

And while there are no lawyers in her immediate family, Fiona’s great grandfather on her mother’s side Albert Rotorua Graham practised in Christchurch and Auckland. His father, Robert Graham, of the Clan Graham of Montrose, came out from Scotland as Superintendent of Auckland.

On a visit to Scotland she found the old Graham castle, “which had no roof and had a tree growing through it. I understand they took the roof off to try to avoid taxes at some stage, that’s how the story goes.”

Mugdock Castle was the seat of the chiefs of the Clan Graham from the middle of the 13th century. The current seat of clan chief, the Duke of Montrose, is Buchanan Castle in Stirlingshire.

Fiona keeps the family name alive through her Montrose Chambers in Invercargill.

Clan gathering

“My dinner guests would include all my ancestors from either side who moved to New Zealand. I would find out why they came and how they found it. I would include my own family with a gathering of the extended clan.

“We would have venison, snapper and Central Otago pinot noir. No Southland swedes.”

Her father worked in Dundee (once famous for its jute, jam and journalism) when Fiona was 11 and she had a term off to travel round Scotland. “I was at my parents recently and found my travel diary which they made me write at the time - which was great reading. We also went camping round Europe.”

Since then she has travelled round Europe on a train pass, been through the southern states of America and two years ago went skiing with her sons in Vancouver. “Vancouver is such a beautiful city in summer and winter.”

“I am just back from seeing the stage play Harry Potter and the Cursed Child with our two boys in Melbourne. It was amazing and I recommend it.

“One of Dad’s ancestors was transported from England and ended up in Tasmania. I believe they then came to Riverton in Southland.”

“Dad was saying it would be good to go to Tasmania, find some gravestones and walk in the footsteps of our ancestors.

“We don’t have any pets at the moment but that is part of the move to the farm. We may get a dog and there are serious discussions going on right now about whether it should be a collie, a springer spaniel or a labrador.

“For my 50th birthday in February – which was also the day of my call to the Inner Bar, a big day - I got a red Jaguar E-Pace 4x4. I got it so I could drive to Queenstown and on days like today get home.”

A case which stands out for Fiona is a sexual violation case she took to the Court of Appeal while she was with the Crown, on attempts to commit crime. “I enjoyed that because we were looking at what the law was on attempts and whether it should be changed, which the Court of Appeal did.

“The narrow issue was whether the physical acts were too remote to constitute attempts at law. We were submitting that the existing law from the Court of Appeal about 30 years earlier, in 1982, was wrong in law.

“We suggested it should be a test of a real and practical step towards the actual commission of the crime which should be sufficient. It was quite a step forward.

“I’m not particularly artistic or creative but love flowers so would probably be a florist in an alternative career.”

Playing in the snow is only one attraction of Southland. “I’ve had a happy client just deliver a whole lot of paua to me. So I will have to work out a recipe for fritters.

“It’s one of the advantages of working here.”

Over a long career in journalism Jock Anderson has spent many hours in courtrooms and talking to members of the legal profession. He can be contacted at jockanderson123@gmail.com

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Last updated on the 22nd August 2019