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(Raymond) Bruce Squire QC, 1943 - 2019

By Kristy McDonald ONZM QC

Bruce was the son of a Northland naval man who had fought in the Battle of the River Plate. Born on 20 June 1943, he was the child of loving parents who brought their son up in the country with rules, discipline and a strong sense of principle—of right and wrong.

He was a young man who spoke of his fondness and respect for many of his teachers at Whangārei Boys’ High School - but not all. A talented sportsman - captain of the First XV - he played as first five-eighth, number 10, and he was captain of the First XI.

Pretty much in every sport he turned his hand to, he did well. Sport was important to him - rugby particularly was his great passion. Bruce went on to become heavily involved in rugby disciplinary proceedings, developing much of what we know as the modern rugby judicial process. He travelled extensively to SANZAR meetings and World Cup games, chairing many crucial rugby disciplinary matters - the famous Sean Fitzpatrick ear biting incident in 1994 is just one that immediately comes to mind. And he made good friends across the world through that work. He later also became involved in Racing Judicial work and again - seemingly effortlessly - delivered complex sporting judicial decisions, always reflecting fair play but without killing the sport.

Sport - competition, physicality, discipline, team work, fairness - these were things Bruce learnt as a young man and they continued to influence and shape his entire legal career.

Photo of Bruce Squire AC

And, despite his protestations to the contrary, he had a fierce intellect and an ability to digest and analyse information better than anyone else I know.

He started practice in Invercargill after he and Virginia were married and there he began working as a prosecutor. He learnt how to prosecute in those formative years - and he learnt that well, because, he would become one of the best prosecutors of his time. He understood what it meant to carry that responsibility - that burden - and the importance of strength on the one hand and fairness on the other.

He was thrown in at the deep end doing serious criminal trails early in his career and that would have had a big impact on him: those experiences shape you. Bruce understood about fairness, kindness, the frailty of life, of the importance of people in all that we do.

Crown Law

Virginia and Bruce moved to Wellington in early 1976 and Bruce started work at the Crown Law Office. Sir Richard Savage was the Solicitor-General at that time, a formidable man, like Bruce, strong, principled, kind and fair. Bruce admired Richard enormously and Richard was a true mentor for him. Sir Richard told me once that he thought Bruce was one of the finest lawyers he’d known.

From the time Bruce was at Crown Law and subsequently, he was involved in some of the most significant litigation for the Crown. The Clowns case concerning the protests arising out of the 1981 Springbok tour was a seminal event in New Zealand’s political and social history. He was also involved in the Rainbow Warrior incident, the Arthur Allan Thomas inquiry, the significant immigration decision of Benipal v Ministers of Foreign Affairs and Immigration (High Court, Auckland, A993/83, 16 December 1985). The Ortiz case involved the New Zealand Government in 1983 seeking the return of Māori artefacts from the UK. That case took Bruce to London where he appeared in the English High Court and Court of Appeal - one of only a few New Zealand lawyers to do so without being formally admitted in the UK courts.

Then there was the famous Plumley Walker trial that Bruce prosecuted in Auckland (R v Chignell [1991] 2 NZLR 257), the Wine Box Inquiry that lasted for years, the successful prosecution of New Zealand's most infamous art forger, Carl Goldie.There were many high profile murder trials - the list is extensive.

What followed for Bruce was a very successful practice at the independent bar - and for me after I joined him in chambers, over 30 years of mentoring, friendship, companionship and collegiality.

When I met him he seemed to be the most important lawyer in New Zealand. He seemed to have been involved in every important case, worked more hours than the day (or night) had. But he still had time to help me. And that was something he did for young lawyers throughout his career. He was always on the phone providing advice, helping other lawyers shape their arguments.

And there were many times that he acted for, advised and represented lawyers who had lost their way professionally. He not only helped them with their driving charges, their law society issues and more serious problems but he took time to be their friend. I watched him often over the years provide whatever it was that they were missing - friendship, a strong hand and an anchor.

Queen's Counsel in 1992

Bruce took silk in 1992. What followed were more years of high profile and important cases, many notable for their legal significance - murder trials, fraud trails (South Canterbury Finance), fisheries cases, appeals, complex legal arguments, important legal precedents. The law reports are full of his cases - his successes and his losses. He wore his successes (and there were many) with humility - but he didn’t like losing!

Bruce also became a fine defence counsel. He was a formidable advocate for his clients and every case Bruce did was as important to him as the last. It didn’t matter how small it was, which court it was in, or who it was for. Many were done pro bono or for heavily reduced fees. He wanted to help people who needed his help.

Bruce didn’t seek fame or glory - indeed he actively shunned it. Despite my urging that just occasionally he might like to take some credit for these things, he never did. It was always about the individual. He cared deeply for his clients.

I can recall as a young prosecutor appearing alongside Bruce, watching his professionalism, his dignity, noticing that you didn’t need to be flamboyant or showy to have a jury trust you. You just needed to honest and fair.

One thing that struck me on our first appearances together was how when he stood up to introduce us as counsel to the Court he always put my name first - "Ms McDonald and I appear … never I appear with Ms McDonald”. He always announced his junior before himself. I didn’t know of any other barrister who did that (it’s a very gracious thing to do).

But he was human. He had his frailties and his shortcomings. He could be abrasive and too direct at times and he took humility and his rejection of self-importance to a point that was sometimes counterproductive.

He was unforgiving if he felt those he had trusted and respected had let him down. There was no going back as Bruce had no time for pomposity, gravitas, pretension or duplicity.

What made Bruce such a fine lawyer and such a wonderful loyal friend was his humility, his honesty, his fearlessness, his overwhelming and steadfast commitment to principle and his unfailing generosity. Those characteristics are learnt from your parents - but they also come from experience, real experience with real people, from all walks of life. Bruce was one of those special lawyers: he observed, he listened and understood people, he saw their distress, their worry, their fear, their families - and that made him a fine advocate, a brilliant cross examiner and ultimately a thoroughly decent man.

What is harder to explain is the Bruce you perhaps didn’t all know - but I did.

Generous and principled

Bruce was the most generous man I know, generous with his time and with whatever he could give. The first to pay for coffee or lunch, always ready to give to whatever charity made a call to him - and it was nonjudgmental generosity. It didn’t come with strings.

Almost without exception friends and colleagues have said “he was such a principled person” - then they’ve gone on to tell me stories of ringing him to check whether a decision they’d made was ethical or a judgment they’d made had been right. Bruce knew how to make principled decisions. It wasn’t just a word to him, it was everything. Being principled isn’t easy. The right decisions are almost always the hard ones, but they are also most often the obvious ones. Once you learn to ignore what you want the decision to be, then it becomes much easier because you remove your personal interest from the process. It’s not about what you want to do it’s about what you should do. There were no shades of grey when it came to being principled. You’ve got to be able to look yourself in the mirror at the end of the day, he would say - do the right thing.

He was a feminist. That may be a surprise to you. But not once in 35 years did Bruce ever suggest I couldn’t or shouldn’t handle any matter. Not once in 35 years did he ever talk over me or patronise me (other than in jest), not once in 35 years did I ever feel he thought I wasn’t up to it because I was a woman.

Bruce was extraordinarily sensitive and kind. He was a soft-hearted man. He was unfailingly kind, patient and generous to the various secretaries/PAs and employees we had over the years, he rarely got cross or impatient.

Bruce Squire leaves an impressive legacy of dedication to his clients and an enviable reputation for intelligence, honesty and integrity. His memory will be held close for a very long time by a handful of nearest and dearest.

Bruce died on 30 September 2019. He is survived by his wife Virginia, daughter Caroline and son Martin.

Last updated on the 25th October 2019