After more than a decade on the Legal Services Committee, six of them as its convener, James Wilding stepped down in 2011.
James was an “absolutely outstanding” convener, according to former New Zealand Law Society President John Marshall QC.
“He willingly contributed huge amounts of time and expertise to the committee over many years.
“During the very difficult period when the Bazley review was being completed and after the report was released, James was involved in a number of meetings with Dame Margaret, with whom he formed a very good working relationship.
“His advice on the strategy which the Law Society should adopt in response to that report was very highly valued.
“He also gave a number of media interviews on behalf of the Society and always spoke in a reasoned and measured way and put the Society’s views very clearly,” Mr Marshall says.
James drafted the Law Society’s submissions on the Bazley review “and did it under considerable time pressure”. “James was always a pleasure to work with. He was always willing, courteous and thoughtful, and his advice was always of a very high quality. It was measured and reasonable, and provided a reasoned and common sense view of the issues.
“He was a superb convener of the Legal Services Committee and we were very fortunate to have his outstanding voluntary contribution for as long as we did.
“The profession has a great deal to thank James for in his work on legal aid over the last decade,” Mr Marshall says.
James became convener of the Legal Services Committee in May 2004, having joined the committee in 1999.
Over recent years, both the committee and James, as its convener, have been involved in battling hard on behalf of lawyers and their clients in promoting an effective and meaningful legal aid system in New Zealand and access to justice for New Zealanders.
A focus of access to justice, and trying to ensure that happens for New Zealand people has been a major driver for the committee under James’ leadership.
What was a generalist committee when he first joined has, over time ‒ especially after the introduction of the Legal Services Act 2000 ‒ taken on a significant legal aid focus.
With the introduction of the Public Defence Service, the report on legal aid by Dame Margaret Bazely and the government’s consultations and legislation on legal aid, this area has been a major one for the committee.
From implications of legal aid changes for fair trial rights to whether or not there is an appropriate mix of providers, from the extent of the state’s obligations to fund legal representation for those who cannot afford it to equality of arms, from consideration of the efficiency of Court processes to the implications of international conventions and treaty obligations, there have been a range of high-level issues for the committee to deal with.
James is currently based in Wellington, where he is one of three counsel assisting the Royal Commission on the Pike River Coal Mine Tragedy. Reported cases include counsel for the appellant in Drew v Attorney-General  1 NZLR 58. He has been appointed amicus curiae in various cases, including Brooker v The Police  NZSC 30, and has represented the Law Society before select committees and in the High Court.
A barrister, he practices in the areas of civil, medical and relationship property law and appears as a lawyer for the child. He continues his NZLS involvement as a member of the Rule of Law Committee.
This article was published in LawTalk 783, 21 October, page 14.