New Zealand Law Society - The Dickens lover who speaks up for the naked and the down-trodden

The Dickens lover who speaks up for the naked and the down-trodden

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If there’s a human rights case to comment on or a downtrodden soul to take up the cudgels for, Upper Hutt barrister Michael Bott is never far away.

And among Michael’s more unusual cases are a couple involving naked men.

Naturist athlete Nick Lowe was initially convicted for offensive behaviour and fined for riding his bike naked near Upper Hutt during World Nude Bike Day in 2009.

The case made international news.

Michael Robin (Michael) Bott
Hawke’s Bay
Entry to law
Graduated BA in Politics and Philosophy and LLB from Victoria University in 1999.  Admitted in 2002.
Michael Bott Barrister, Silverstream, Upper Hutt.
Speciality area
Criminal law, courts martial, parole board, mediation.
Michael Bott
Michael Bott

A female motorist complained to the police and the court of being “fairly disgusted” when she saw Mr Lowe, a builder from Johnsonville, who also completed the 2009 Coast to Coast in his birthday suit and regularly trained nude.

“I took Mr Lowe’s appeal to the High Court where Justice Denis Clifford quashed the conviction and fine, ruling that Mr Lowe’s nakedness had not met the test of offensive behaviour,” says Michael.

“Another case involved a chap running in the nude in a wooded area in Tauranga. Only a few days beforehand there was the Boobs on Bikes parade in Tauranga.

“So it seemed to me the nudity was okay so long as it was the kind of nudity the police liked or that blokes in Tauranga liked. But a naked man was somehow different - it was funny – and I won that case also.”

Although not from a military background, Michael finds Courts Martial “extremely fascinating”.

“I did a case a few years ago involving a high-ranking navy commodore who was convicted after not disclosing an affair with a subordinate and dismissed from the navy.”

Commodore Kevin Keat’s convictions were overturned on appeal in 2014, in the face of a Court Martial decision Michael says was “fundamentally wrong”.

Leaving high school, he enrolled at Otago University where he was going to go into the seminary. After studying at Knox College when the Rev Peter Marshall was Master of Knox, he left Dunedin and started politics and political science at Victoria University.

“I then became a house mover, became ill and while under treatment completed a law degree.

“When I was at intermediate school we visited the Hastings District Court and I played the part of defence counsel. I enjoyed the debate and also representing someone I thought was getting a rather poor run of it.

Seventies court TV

“Then in the 1970s I watched John Mortimer’s Rumpole (of the Bailey). Actor Leo McKern and the character appealed to me.

“It showed there was a hypocrisy and an injustice in relation to people who were poor and downtrodden and they didn’t get a fair shake of the stick.

“It wasn’t the glamour for me, it was the fact of doing something that was intellectually engaging and also worthwhile for people who often needed assistance and couldn’t achieve justice on their own.”

Michael’s adoptive parents are in their 80s and live in Hastings. “Mum and Dad worked in business together, Dad made fruit bins and pallets and I helped.

“I have a sister Christine who is married to Stephen, a builder in Hastings, and I have two nieces there.

“I also have my birth mother and father, and between them have another five half-brothers.

“My oldest son Richard is doing his Masters at Macquarie University, Sydney, in Classics and Archaeology. My daughter Catherine – CJ – plays with the Football Ferns and is playing professional women’s football in Sweden. And my youngest son Gareth works at Whittakers Chocolates in Porirua.

“I am the only lawyer in the family, the first in the family to ever go to university and graduate, and I think the first to even get school certificate.”

Fly fishing and furniture

Michael maintains an occasional blog (“Michael Bott’s Notebook”) where he publishes his thoughts on social issues of the day, stories, and reminiscences from his youth “so people can have a look”.

“I greatly enjoy fly fishing and love walking. My favourite fishing spots are the Ruamahanga River and Abbott’s Creek in Wairarapa, round Lake Rotorua, Tukituki in Hawke’s Bay, Hutt River and the Mohaka.

“I used to have a great passion for hockey and played at school - and race walking, but have not done that for a while.

“I enjoy reading and restoring antiques. I have a great interest in Chapman-Taylor furniture.”

James Walter Chapman-Taylor was considered one of New Zealand’s most important domestic architects of his time, bringing the arts and crafts movement to New Zealand houses he designed. He was also a skilled craftsman, builder, furniture designer, photographer and astrologer.

“I like getting pieces and restoring them - doing up old couches. I have some pieces at home and at the office. I have always found, even as a child, Chapman-Taylor’s hand-crafted furniture, always with an adzed finish, to be good. It’s nice to have the human element in furniture as opposed to de-personalised mass-produced material.

“For years when I was in Wellington I was in civil defence and also gave my time voluntarily in terms of prison visits. But now often I find my job doesn’t leave time for anything else – it’s very demanding.

“Often I will give assistance to people who just want free legal advice so there’s a range of community groups who get my advice.”

An extensive traveller in Europe, the south of France, Great Britain and particularly Scotland, Michael enjoys travelling in New Zealand. “New Zealand is a very attractive place and there is always something new to look at. I have always had a great love for Lakes Taupo and Rotorua and also Hawke’s Bay and the Kaweka Ranges.”

In Scotland he traced his Fraser family connections through Aberdeenshire and the Highlands. “I loved it there – and also enjoy single malt whisky.”


“I love music but can’t create it. I was in a school orchestra once and played the claves (wooden sticks) in an Anzac performance until the teacher grabbed me from behind and took me off the stage and that was the end of it. A great embarrassment.

“I like a broad range of music from baroque to opera, Van Morrison and the Chieftains, Latin music, the Gypsy Kings, Django Reinhardt and Ry Cooder. And New Zealand bands such as Dragon, Hogsnort Rupert, and DD Smash.

“I like reading Dickens – I like the style and imagery of Dickens and his social commentary. I love how he paints images with words.

“I like biographies – I have just read a life of Napoleon and one on Hitler’s rise to power – I can’t remember the author, but it is chilling to make links with what Hitler did with the rise of a certain American president.

“I have also been reading Philip Roth and Salman Rushdie.

“The last film I saw was Gary Oldman in Darkest Hour, and was very pleased with that. I don’t watch much television. I listen to the radio a lot but not commercial.

“I like doing up old cars and did up an old Mercedes G320, a big old two-ton beast, which I love driving.

“There are no pets - I’m away too much to look after them. Quite a bit of my time is away – New Plymouth, Auckland, Tauranga, Christchurch, Dunedin.”

Dinner with ….

“My fondest memories are of working with one of New Zealand foremost appeal and human rights lawyers, Dr Tony Ellis.

“I worked with him for more than a decade and we are still good friends. Some of my fondest memories at the Bar have been appearing alongside him and being in chambers with him.

“I also enjoyed appearing before Justice David Baragwanath. It is always a joy to appear before a judge who has a searching mind and loves asking questions.

“I would love to have had dinner with John Mortimer when he was in his prime. He is fascinating and a great raconteur with a brilliant sense of humour.

“There would be champagne, of course, and I imagine oysters and chicken and more champagne. More important than the food would be the conversation.

“Churchill would be fascinating to have along, just to see how he worked. I loved his turn of phrase. And Martin Luther King and Geoffrey Robertson QC, the human rights lawyer from the UK.

“If I have a legal ambition it is to remain an honest lawyer who does his best for his clients. Do your best to represent clients without fear or favour.

“It’s very difficult to consider an alternative career. I like law reform and looking at where the law goes haywire and doesn’t meet the social goals we desire of it in terms of outcomes. Maybe something to do with the law and representing people in society.”

A former Young Nat in his teens, Michael stood unsuccessfully for Labour in 2011 in Wairarapa, finishing more than 7,000 votes behind National’s John Hayes.  

“It is heart-rending even now to see people who are poor and with limited options who wind up within the teeth of the justice system and get ground down. That causes great distress.”

Over a long career in journalism Jock Anderson has spent many hours in courtrooms and talking to members of the legal profession. He can be contacted at

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