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David Bracken Wilson, 1931 - 2015

By Geoff Adlam

Retired District Court Judge David Wilson died in Tauranga on 16 May 2015 aged 83. Mr Wilson served as a District Court Judge for 17 years and for a further 10 years as an Acting District Court Judge after his retirement. He is remembered fondly for his innovative approaches to sentencing.

Born in Hastings on 27 December 1931, he was the son of James Bracken and Mary Caroline (nee Jones) Wilson. He attended Mahora Primary School in Hastings and Dannevirke High School before studying law at Victoria University of Wellington, where he graduated LLB in 1958. During his time at Victoria he was President of the Victoria University Students’ Association from 1957 to 1958.

Mr Wilson was admitted as a barrister and solicitor in 1958 and was employed by Hawera law firm Welsh McCarthy. He married Noeleen Gwladys Thomson on 30 April 1961 and the couple were to have four sons.

Mr Wilson became a partner in 1960, with the firm being renamed Welsh McCarthy & Wilson. He became a Notary Public in 1966. In 1970 he served as Vice President of the Taranaki District Law Society.

In 1971 Mr Wilson was appointed a Stipendiary Magistrate. He was based in Wellington until 1973 before moving to Tauranga. Magistrates’ Courts were replaced by District Courts in 1980 and Mr Wilson became a District Court Judge until his retirement in mid-1988. He continued his work on the bench until 1997 with annual appointments as Acting District Court Judge.

Paying tribute on his retirement, Chief District Court Judge Peter Trapski said Mr Wilson was acknowledged for his pioneering role in sentencing.

Tauranga criminal defence lawyer Tony Balme says Mr Wilson became known for some innovative sentencing approaches.

“A well-known one was when he dealt with a young man who was kicking up a ruckus downtown, calling the Police ‘pigs’. He got tasked with running out to a local piggery as part of his sentencing.”

It appears that the piggery was quite a way out of town. 

Mr Balme says Mr Wilson’s sentences were very much tailored to fit the crime and to send an appropriate message: “nothing out of the Sentencing Manual, put it that way.”

“He was a wonderful character, a very human judge. He very much always looked at the individual, which was a great quality,” he says.

Holding the role of District Court Judge at a time when Tauranga was much smaller than it is now, Mr Wilson’s work covered most fields.

“As a judge you were the List Court Judge, the Youth Court Judge, the Family Judge, the civil judge – you covered all the bases. He was from an era when you saw everything that went through the courts. He knew all the families and he was often able to tailor some quite individualised sentences for people.”

Outside the law Mr Wilson led an active life in the community. He was a member of the Waikato University Council from 1973 to 1981 and during the same time he was also a member of the Hamilton Teachers’ College Council. He was also a member of the Otumoetai Lions Club and played tennis and golf.

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Last updated on the 3rd August 2017