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Judge Simon Grant Lockhart QC, 1934 - 2015

By Geoff Adlam

Former District Court Judge Simon Lockhart died in Auckland on 10 November 2015. He was aged 80. In an active legal life he was one of New Zealand's leading advocates and regarded with a high level of respect and affection by the profession. A lifelong love of horse racing also saw him closely involved in the administrative and judicial side of the sport.

Born in Gisborne on 26 December 1934, Simon Lockhart attended Eketahuna High School and Wellington College before he went to Victoria University College in 1953. He completed an LLB in 1959 and was admitted to the Bar that year.

A year later, in 1960, he married Georgette (Georgie) Cooper. The couple had four children, Michelle, Richard, Rosanne and Mason.

Setting up practice in Auckland, he quickly showed an aptitude for litigation. He completed an LLM in 1966 and became a partner with Auckland firm Jackson Russell before moving to the independent bar and forging a career as one of Auckland's foremost advocates. His pre-eminence was recognised with appointment as Queen's Counsel in 1982.

Simon Lockhart had a strong criminal practice, appearing for the defence in around 50 murder trials. He also appeared on a wide range of other matters, including defamation (News Media (Auckland) Ltd v Young [1989] 2 NZLR 173).

One particularly noteable case in which he appeared was Re T [1975] 2 NZLR 449, an application to declare the sex of his client who had changed sex from male to female. Mr Lockhart sought a declaratory judgment to require amendment of the Register of Births to show the gender change. However, the state of the law at the time was shown when the (then) Supreme Court held that there was no relevant statute or regulation which could be invoked to make a declaration in rem.

Simon Lockhart also appeared for the District Court Judge respondent in the proceedings taken by the two Rainbow Warrior French terrorists to stop footage of their trial being used in a television documentary (Mafart v Gilbert [1986] 1 NZLR 434).

One of his last  big cases before a major change in his legal career was an action taken by the Serious Fraud Office (R v Dixon and Wright [1997] 1 NZLR 54). After six weeks of depositions the charges were dismissed against both defendants. Simon Lockhart QC and with him David Chisholm (now also QC) appeared for one of the defendants.

"I quickly discovered that he was a genuinely fun person to work with. He always had an amusing yarn to tell or comment to make – often under his breath or out of the side of his mouth, in Court," David Chisholm QC recalls.

"Despite the large amount of paper that I had delivered to his Chambers before the case began, Simon was very soon able to summarise matters in a direct and plain way that was ultimately right 'on the money'. What also impressed me as a junior lawyer was his ability to cross-examine in Court. He was simple with his language but so disarming and effective."

Robert Hesketh recalls meeting Simon Lockhart "as a squeaky-voiced baby solicitor" in 1982 when he was asked to deliver a document to his Chambers in the Southern Cross Building.

"Those were the days when seniority and 'hierarchy' amongst lawyers still mattered. A barrister was someone who had been a senior partner in a firm and went to the bar as a mark of their skill; a QC was God-like."

With this view of the profession the young Robert Hesketh delivered the document to the Queen's Counsel who was sitting alone in his Chambers ("a large unpretentious room"). After being thanked profusely, he was asked his name, where he worked, whether he liked it, what he thought of the law, and where he saw himself in five years' time.

"He was genuinely and warmly interested in me; he made me feel welcome and he made me feel interesting. He was without ego or pretence."

This was the beginning of a friendship which lasted over 30 years. Robert Hesketh juniored Simon Lockhart in many cases.

"He never lost his temper with me – though doubtless I would have given him cause to. He was unfailingly courteous to counsel on the other side as well as Judges."

Outside the courtroom, Simon Lockhart QC was also an active participant in the organisation of the legal profession. He was a Council member of the Auckland District Law Society from 1976 to 1986, and President in 1986. He was Vice-President of the New Zealand Law Society in 1987, and also served as a Member and Deputy Chairman of the NZLS Disciplinary Tribunal. He was a member of the Panel of Prosecutors from 1981 until 1996. In 1982 he became Registrar of Private Investigators and Security Guards, holding that role until 1996.

His prominent legal career was further recognised in 1990 when he was awarded a New Zealand 1990 Medal.

A new direction in his legal life began with his appointment as a District Court Judge on 5 September 1996. He was sworn in at the Auckland District Court on 27 September and sat in Auckland from 30 September 1996.

As a member of the judiciary Judge Lockhart continued to be an enormously respected figure.

Now-retired District Court Judge Stan Thorburn worked alongside him and recalls a man who was large, indomitable and always influential in whatever he did in his life.

"He was in all situations a natural leader, a person of presence and someone who we would colloquially say had the X-factor."

As he had mentored young lawyers such as Robert Hesketh and David Chisholm, so did Judge Lockhart become known as a mentor to younger and less experienced judges.

"Mentoring of the younger is something which is seen throughout Simon's professional life as he seamlessly and naturally offered leadership in a subtle and unintrusive way to many," Judge Thorburn says.

"My experience of Simon as a colleague formed around us often being the first to arrive for work in the morning, and our greetings became a ritual with Simon revealing his mantra for the day: 'Hi Simon. How're you doing?' 'Never better!'

"Whether it was me poking my head into his room to say good morning, or him to me, the event always ended with Simon's proclamation of 'Never better!'

"It was the same after he'd had a stroke – I believe he was not expected to come back to work – but he did and the proclamation resumed. And also after he'd had surgery to remove a kidney. Back at work and still 'Never better!'

"Simon had that attitude to every day. Every day was a gift and he was going to make sure he got the best out of it. A true optimist."

"When Simon had his first stroke while sitting as a District Court Judge, he told me that the medics had said that he may never work again," Robert Hesketh says.

"Determined to prove them wrong, Simon re-trained his brain to work and he would write down three long columns of figures, and then proceed to add them up using his brain and a pencil – gradually getting his brain to re-boot. It clearly worked though not for as long as he would have wanted."

On his retirement from the bench in 2007, Judge Lockhart was appointed to the Weathertight Homes Tribunal. His retirement was marked with a special sitting of the District Court.

LawNews reported then-Crown Prosecutor (now Justice) Simon Moore as noting that Judge Lockhart was the undisputed leader of the criminal bar in Auckland at the time of his appointment to the bench.

"You have also brought great style to the Bench. You are debonair with more than just a hint of the theatrical. These are qualities which you have used to great effect. Although you could never be described as an interventionist judge, you have not been shy to let counsel, and at time witnesses, know your thinking."

Away from the law, Judge Lockhart was an important participant in the horse racing industry throughout his life. He was made a Life Member of the Auckland Racing Club, and also belonged to the Avondale Jockey Club, Counties Racing Club and Auckland Trotting Club.

For a long time he was an active member of New Zealand Thoroughbred Racing, the governing body of the thoroughbred code. He was also one of its representatives on the Judicial Control Authority, the statutory authority which has oversight of judicial and appeal proceedings in New Zealand's thoroughbred, harness and greyhound racing.

Judicial Control Authority member and lawyer Gary Thompson says Judge Lockhart was a well respected member of the Authority from 2005 to 2009: "He knew his game and he was an ideal person for the job. He knew judicial procedures like the back of his hand, and he was a very personable man too."

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Last updated on the 25th February 2016