New Zealand Law Society - Globe-trotting diplomat’s daughter’s brush with world leaders

Globe-trotting diplomat’s daughter’s brush with world leaders

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Kristina Muller
Kristina Muller

David and Naomi Lange used her father’s apartment to deal with their marital problems and Indira Gandhi tidied her hair, but being around world leaders was not uncommon for diplomat’s daughter Kristina Muller.

In the 1980s, the apartment of her late diplomat father Frank Muller – who became Prime Minister David Lange’s political minder - “became a place of refuge for both David and Naomi Lange as they worked their way through their marital split”.

Kristina Maria (Kristina) Muller
“It gets to the stage where these things are best left fuzzy.”
Entry to law
Graduated BA from Victoria University and LLB from Auckland University in 1983. Admitted in 1984.
Barrister in William Martin Chambers, Auckland
Speciality area
Public law, civil and commercial and property law.

Years earlier Kristina curtsied to Indira Gandhi as the Indian leader tidied her hair and presented her with a speaking competition prize in New Delhi in the late 1960s.

“It must have been a quiet time for her to be able to come and present the school prizes,” says Kristina, who recently resumed practice as a barrister after seven years at the Crown Law Office.

“I have a photo of myself curtsying to Mrs Gandhi, which is what we were told to do, and another photo of her tidying my hair.”

The Muller family lived in Indonesia, India, Holland and Canada. “When I was young I grew up mainly overseas. I did my first year of university in Ottawa, then decided to return to New Zealand as my parents went on to serve in Los Angeles and Hong Kong twice.”

Sportsman, diplomat, school teacher, bureaucrat and former dux of his hometown Pleasant Point school, in South Canterbury, Frank Muller served as a diplomat from 1963 to 1987, including spells as deputy high commissioner in Ottawa, consul general in Los Angeles, commissioner in New Delhi and two terms as commissioner in Hong Kong. He met his Swedish wife Brigita in Liverpool in 1956 and proposed to her on a ferry crossing the Mersey within two hours of their meeting. He took early retirement from the foreign service and started working for Mr Lange when he was leader of the Opposition.

Chance intervention

“I’m someone who’s had a number of jobs in law - I like variety, I like development and like the idea of trying something new.

“My years at Crown Law were wonderful and a huge learning curve. There were a lot of challenging and interesting opportunities but there is also a sameness to it. Acting for the same client and doing a lot of public law. I thought it was time for another change.”

Kristina is deputy convenor of the law reform committee of New Zealand Law Society, and former trustee of the New Zealand Law Foundation. Her previous roles include a judges’ clerk at the Auckland High Court, commercial litigation at two national law firms and legal counsel to the Casino Control Authority.

Her sister lives in Chiang Mai, in northern Thailand, and her brother has recently returned to New Zealand after 30 years’ overseas.

The only lawyer in the family, Kristina’s interest in law started when the family was living in Canada and had a visit from her father’s friend, high-profile litigator the late Des Dalgety.

“He overheard me having a teenage conversation with my father – an argument really – and made some comment about me becoming a lawyer.

“The idea stuck. In those days you got next to no career guidance so no-one ever discussed what you were going to do. Des Dalgety was actually someone who said something.

“In Canada, law is a post-graduate degree so I couldn’t start off with it. I pursued it when I came back to New Zealand and have never regretted it.

“I have been doing it for more than 30 years and it’s always held an interest and fascination for me. I have seen it in its many iterations - the ways it can work.”

As Crown counsel, Kristina has appeared in a number of significant cases, including a long-running case about the importation of raw pork which went to the Supreme Court and upheld the Ministry of Primary Industries’ decision allowing raw pig meat into New Zealand through its import health standards for pork.

She also appeared in front of the United Nations Human Rights Committee Against Torture in Geneva as part of a New Zealand delegation reporting under the Convention Against Torture, and juniored for the Solicitor General in the first Saxmere case, involving Justice Bill Wilson and the recusal of judges.

“I did a lot in the constitutional and human rights area, including a lot of work for Corrections. The one that always pops up is the case of John Ericson, who bashed his wife to death with a tomahawk, and took Corrections to court to force them to give him counselling that may lead to his release on parole. He failed. He brought quite a few unsuccessful cases against Corrections and the Parole Board.”

The Nordic writing phenomenon

“I love reading and belong to a book group in Wellington. It’s a wonderful thing because it exposes you to all sorts of authors and genres you wouldn’t normally touch and a great way to discuss books with other people who enjoy them.

“I like crime books - funny that. It has something to do with trying to order the world and have everything neatly tied up. But nothing too violent.

“I like the Kurt Wallander stories, Ruth Rendell, PD James, Australian writer Michael Robotham and Norwegian writer Jo Nesbo, but he is quite violent. I read a lot of Scandinavian and Swedish novels partly because it is interesting for me to see the settings and the familiarity with my Swedish mother.

“There is a streak of depression in Scandinavian writing, but having said that my own relatives are pretty jolly people.

“I’m also trying to broaden my horizons and right now I’m reading A Woman’s Place by Joan Withers. It is really interesting and resonating a lot with discussions going on in the legal profession about diversity.

“And I’m reading English writer Ian McEwan’s The Children Act, which has a legal bent about a female English family court judge dealing with difficult cases whose marriage breaks up.

“I like a huge range of films. One of the nice things about going to the film society is I get exposed to documentaries and enjoy them. Some of the most memorable have been documentaries. The Smartest Guys in the Room, and The Chinese Mayor, about the daily business of a high-ranking mainland Chinese official.

“I love Humphrey Bogart and saw The Maltese Falcon the other day. I have seen The Godfather I many times. I enjoy old movies including The Sound of Music.

“I watch whatever is on TV – The Usual Suspects and the British House of Cards – but Game of Thrones is awful and too violent.”

Down the Mekong

Kristina travels regularly to see family and friends overseas, particularly to Asia where she has family based.

“Last September and October I went with a group of friends to Chiang Mai, then down the Mekong River on a private long boat, a two-day trip I’ve now done twice. Six years ago we were bringing supplies to schools that only had access by water.

“A New Zealand friend in Chiang Mai set up an organisation which supports four remote village schools in Laos. The government provides a teacher but the communities, which are very, very poor, have to build the school, so he got group of friends together who buy supplies and provide support to build the schools.

“I go to Europe quite a lot – Paris in particular, and also Barcelona and Greece. My last trip within New Zealand was to Hawke’s Bay for a friend’s birthday.

“I studied the piano for seven years and practised every day but I’m pretty tone deaf and not very musical. My sister, who never practised except when she had to, was miles better than me. Leonard Cohen is easy listening and I like opera arias.

“I drive my father’s low-mileage Suzuki Swift, which I bought from the estate when he died.”

Kristina used to have Persian cats – “no more than two at a time” – but has no pets now.

Royalty and Churchill

Her dinner guests, alive or from history, would include Elizabeth I, “She is a total mystery, she must have been a remarkable woman to hold her country together for 45 years and no-one has any insight into her mind”; Elizabeth II “From what I can tell she’s a really interesting woman”; Indira Gandhi, Leonard Cohen and Winston Churchill, “He was the epitome of grit and leadership in difficult times. Just imagine him and Elizabeth I comparing notes on the subject of threatened invasions.

“With that variety I would have to ask them what they felt like eating. Probably a buffet or something.”

She says working as a High Court judges’ clerk between 1983 and 1987 was “wonderful.”

“The judges were fabulous to work for. I had some interesting cases to research for them.”

There were two clerks for 11 judges and when the other clerk went overseas Kristina “held the fort” for a year or so as the only clerk.

“We were busy but they were more leisurely days then. There was less pressure on the courts. Judges work very hard now.”

From a background that suggests she might possibly be considered a candidate for the Bench, Kristina says: “Who knows??? I’m happy doing what I do”.

“As an alternative career I would try being an architect or an engineer - if I had the necessary skills. It would be nice to produce something tangible.”

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