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Sir Alexander Gray KC, 1860 - 1933

By Sir Richard Wild

Sir Alexander Gray was the fourth President of the New Zealand Law Society.

Born of Scots parents at New Plymouth in 1860, Alexander Gray was educated in Wellington and  entered  the Crown  Law Office  as a cadet at the age of fourteen. Two years later he was articled to HD Bell in  the firm of Bell and Izard and he was admitted to the Bar in 1881. 

He entered practice at Greytown as junior partner in the firm of Beard and Gray, and returned to Wellington in 1886 to join JP Campbell in partnership. He remained in the same firm, known as Gray and Sladden in later years, for the rest of his life, the change in the law whereby silks were debarred  from practice  as solicitors  not  applying  to those  of his vintage (1912). 

Succeeding Skerrett as President in 1926, he con­tinued to hold the office until his death. He presided  over  the  first three Legal Conferences - of 1928, 1929 and 1930 - and received the honour of knighthood  in the New  Years honours  list  1933. He died  on 28 April of that year. 

BeII wrote in the New Zealand Law Journal in January:

"Since the creation by the Act of 1896 of a Council representative of  the profession, there have been  only four Presidents.  The precedent created by his  Knighthood  may  be  followed  in  future,  as  is  now the practice in regard to Presidents of the  Incorporated  Law Society in England, but he is the first and the grant to him is of an  honour he has himself won by his own merit  and  by  his  public  service."

The Guarantee Fund was the major achievement of Gray's  term  of office. Another burning issue of the day was the controversy  with  the Public Trustee about  the  latter's  advertising,  which  was  considered  to  be unfair. At one point this was countered by the rather undignified expedient of official advertising of the services of the profession as such. The newspapers benefitted. Ultimately the rift was healed over  a dinner  at the Hotel St  George,  Wellington,  under the  auspices  of  the Manager of Butterworth and Co. The newspapers ceased  to  benefit  and in retaliation refrained for  a period  from publishing  the  names  of  counsel in the reports of court proceedings. Thus was J. Meltzer,  now  the Wellington Coroner, deprived of recognition of his reputedly record sequence of acquittals of clients indicted on criminal charges. Happily, relations with both the Public Trust Office and the Press  are now  much more harmonious.

As President, as indeed in his court work, Gray was not noted for despatch, for at the outset of the formal proceedings he tended to read the relevant papers in extenso, and indeed - or, so contemporaries report, it often seemed-for the first time. Nonetheless he was a distinguished  President  and his  a fruitful  term of office.

By Sir Richard Wild, in the chapter "Seven New Zealand Presidents", Portrait of a Profession, New Zealand Law Society, Wellington 1969, pages 171 to 172.

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Last updated on the 5th February 2016