New Zealand Law Society - Gun law brief fancies a good head of steam

Gun law brief fancies a good head of steam

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By Jock Anderson

Nicholas James Berwick (Nicholas) Taylor
Entry to law
Graduated BA/LLB Auckland University 1996. Admitted June 1997. 
Barrister in Civic Chambers, Auckland. 
Speciality area
Firearms law, including licence revocations, firearms returns, customs issues, import permits, in all courts throughout New Zealand.
Nicholas Taylor
Nicholas Taylor

New Zealand’s only lawyer specialising fulltime in firearms law, is building a coal-fired steam-powered launch at home, restores old motorbikes and Jaguar cars but does little shooting.

Auckland-based Nicholas Taylor appears in firearms cases all over New Zealand, and overseas, and is a life-member of various shooting organisations, but because of potential conflicts over who he acts for from time to time he prefers not to get “too involved” in shooting sport.

With a young family, his spare time has involved putting his self-taught engineering experience to good use restoring, among other things, 1926 Indian and 1927 Ariel motorbikes, a MK2 Jaguar and a 1965 E-type Jaguar (which he has had since he was 29).

His interest in engineering began during under graduate studies in archaeology and history.

“The last excavation I worked on was the Auckland casino site. We found a lot of boots, shoes and bits of metal at the bottom of a well.

“That was rescue archaeology and through that I developed my interest in First and Second World War history, which led into engineering.

“I taught myself how to use milling machines and lathes and began making small steam engines.”

Nicholas’s latest project is a 17-and-half foot coal-fueled steam launch he’s building at home. The engine is finished and he says the launch may have a name “in ten years”.

A member of the Auckland Steam Engine Society, he became a volunteer at the Museum of Transport and Technology (Motat) “and learned about big steam engines”, before joining the board and serving as deputy chairman.

He resigned as deputy chairman earlier this year, over the treatment of volunteers and a change of direction by director Michael Frawley.

His interest in firearms began in his mid-teens and at university when he went hunting.

Early in his legal career he found it easier to deal with firearms cases because of his interest in guns, so decided to specialise in firearms law.

His research into ballistics, metallurgy and forensic aspects of firearms, as well as his practical experience in metalworking and machine tool engineering, is useful when cross-examining police expert witnesses in court.

He says New Zealand’s Arms Act 1983 – which he describes as revolutionary - is the best firearms law in the world, because it took the emphasis off guns and made the law about people being fit and proper to have them.

“The Arms Act works very well. We have one of the highest gun ownerships but lowest gun crime rates in the world – because of the requirement to be a fit and proper person to own firearms.”

But what he says is good law envied by many countries is misinterpreted and administered by the police in different and conflicting ways.

He advocates for firearms law to be administered by an independent body not part of the police, but says the police are not receptive to that.

He is currently involved in a High Court case against the Solicitor-General on behalf of Richard Neville, an innocent driver who was shot and wounded by armed police on Auckland’s northwestern motorway in 2009.

Police also shot dead innocent passing courier driver Halatau Naitoko in the same incident, while trying to shoot down fleeing armed offender Stephen McDonald, who was on the back of Mr Neville’s truck.

He says there are many unanswered question surrounding the shootings and he would like to question the police officers in court.

Nicholas began his legal career at Central Chambers in Auckland before moving up the street to Civic Chambers in the Auckland district law society building to join former university mates John Anderson and Nicholas Wintour. 

Jock Anderson has been writing and commenting on New Zealand lawyers and New Zealand's courts for several decades. He also writes the weekly Caseload column for the New Zealand Herald. Contact Jock at

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