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Hon Michael Bernard (Ben) Scully, 1906 - 1985

The profession throughout New Zealand, and in particular the Wellington district, heard with great regret of the death of the Honourable Michael Bernard Scully, Senior Magistrate in Wellington from 1963 until his retirement in 1975.

More affectionately known as Ben Scully, he had served as a Stipendiary Magistrate in Wellington since 1949.

The title "Honourable" traces his two years as Chief Justice of Western Samoa from 1974 to 1976. His long period of service on the Bench, his knowledge of the law, his consummate ability as a Judge of fact, all commanded respect. It was other qualities that roused the affection and admiration of practitioners.

His was a very human and kindly nature. He was ever ready from his wealth of experience to assist any who sought his aid. Many counsel, senior and junior alike, have benefitted in the past from conference with him.

Many will remember him seated behind his desk with his Meerschaum pipe, emitting clouds of tobacco smoke. From behind the smoke screen was a gentleman who had an abundance of common sense and a kindly spirit.

The older members of the profession who knew him well delighted in his company, in the charm of his personality, the enjoyment of his stories told with his exquisite humour and his rare perception. He shunned publicity.

In his one and only public interview on the occasion of his 70th  birthday he was asked to comment on the impression he left with some persons that he was impatient, brusque and unimaginative. He told the reporter:

"If by impatient they mean I do not suffer fools gladly, I would agree; if by brusque, I said 'yes' or 'no' immediately and did not take a week to say 'maybe', I will agree; And if by being unimaginative I did not indulge in the realms of legal fantasy, then I agree."

Born in Invercargill in 1906, Mr Scully was educated at Invercargill Marist Brothers and Otago University. He first worked as a law clerk for the late Victor Raines in Invercargill and commenced practice on his own account in Westport in 1932. He built up a law practice specialising in common law and many of his pleadings bestrewed the standard text on that subject. He earned the nickname "Honest Ben" for his integrity and sense of fair play.

Outside the profession he was equally well known in local authorities and was a keen and able sportsman. His interests were diverse; he was a single figure handicap golfer, enthusiastic duck shooter and a successful owner of trotting horses. Over a number of years he was well known as an exhibitor of dahlias.

Appointed a Stipendiary Magistrate in 1949 at, for those days the relatively young age of 43, he remained in Wellington throughout his term of office. He maintained an active interest in golf, shooting and gardening during his judicial career but his main interest was boxing and he remained a member of the New Zealand Boxing Council for many years. During his term on the Wellington Bench he served as Chairman of the Wellington Licensing Committee and was Chairman of the New Zealand Magistrates' Executive.

He is survived by his widow and four children. To Mrs Scully and her family will be extended the sympathy of the profession which admired and respected the late Ben Scully so much.

This obituary was published in the May 1985 issue of the Wellington District Law Society's monthly newsletter, Council Brief.

Last updated on the 22nd January 2016