John Anderson McBride
On 31 January 2022, the law lost one of its most loved and respected servants with the death of John McBride after a long and courageous fight with pancreatic cancer.
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John Anderson McBride was born in 1953 to Jim McBride and Thelma McBride (nee Anderson), as one of three children. He grew up in Palmerston North and attended Palmerston North Boys High before completing Law and Arts degrees at Victoria University.
John’s father, Jim McBride, was a partner of the Palmerston North law firm Rowe McBride (now Fitzherbert Rowe) and John and his brother Tim followed their father into the law.
After graduating, John travelled in South America for a year before spending six years living and working in the United Kingdom. He met and married New Zealander Michèle Hine there. They shared a love of theatre, music, visual arts, languages and politics. John was also a passionate cook and gardener. He and Michele had two children, Sophie in 1991 and Daniel in 1993. He was a very active and much loved father.
In 1985 John and Michele returned to New Zealand and John took up employment with the Auckland firm Shieff Angland, becoming a partner three years later. His practice areas were intellectual property, trade practices, employment, civil and commercial litigation, and immigration and refugee law, an unusual mix that tied in well with his wide and varied interests.
John moved to the independent bar in April 2007. His time at Shieff Angland had introduced him to two parts of his career as a barrister which would endure. The first was his PA, Phillipa Mitchell, who had been with him at Shieff Angland for 12 years. As every sole practitioner knows, the best of PAs is essential to running a small practice and Phillipa rapidly became indispensable as John’s support. They worked together for a further 15 years.
The second attribute which John had acquired at Shieff Angland was a keen interest in refugee and protection law. In the late 1990s and through the 2000s, he acted for many claimants, at all levels. He appeared before the Immigration and Protection Tribunal on no fewer than 60 appeals - many of them cases of profound importance, not only to his clients but to the development of refugee law. He would have appeared on three times that number of cases at first instance. He rapidly became admired for his preparation, advocacy and commitment to his client. Statutory confidentiality precludes providing much detail, but it is important to record the role he played for the Roma community in New Zealand. There are many Roma here who, having fled the grim conditions which that community so often endures in eastern Europe, owe their safety and secure futures to John. There was much grief among Roma families at the news of his death and a Roma folk band played at the church after his service.
In 2016, John conducted a very complex refugee appeal that ran for 22 days, the longest hearing on record.
In 2017, John learned that he had pancreatic cancer and was given an initial, grim prognosis of three, perhaps six, months to live. In spite of this, he would not consider letting his clients down and he continued to work. Serendipitously, John’s client on the 2016 appeal was a practitioner in Chinese medicine and, on learning of John’s diagnosis, immediately started him on a remedy which he would continue to take for the next four years, in tandem with medical mushrooms from the Hifas Da Terra Institute in Spain. Those who know the limited lifespan usually afforded by pancreatic cancer will appreciate that, for John and his family, the ensuing four-year remission was a priceless gift. John freely acknowledged that he could not know whether the remedies were making any difference but, even if they did not (and we will never know), there is no doubt they helped him to feel that he was fighting back. That mindset alone was terribly important.
There were many other facets to John’s life, both inside and outside the law.
Inside the law, John was the Convenor (2010-2013), and subsequently a member (2013-2021), of the New Zealand Law Society’s Immigration and Refugee Law Committee, which monitors and makes recommendations on proposed legislative reforms relevant to immigration and refugee law. On the
Committee, John volunteered much time and expertise to improve access to justice for claimants who seek refugee and protection status in New Zealand. He provided extensive input to key draft documents and guidelines on behalf of the Law Society, including the Draft Confidentiality Guidelines for the Refugee Status Branch and the draft Guidelines that apply when refugee claimants present serious mental health issues.
More recently, while undergoing treatment and often feeling unwell, John represented the NZLS on a cross-sector working group set up to implement a number of recommendations to increase transparency and certainty in the Refugee Status Unit’s systems and process. His contribution helped to ensure that the Refugee Status Unit’s processes are clear, workable and transparent, and enhance claimants’ access to justice.
Outside the law, John undertook a huge amount of pro bono work for various performing arts and other organisations, most notably TAPAC (The Auckland Performing Arts Centre) at Western Springs. He and Michèle were both heavily involved in TAPAC from its inception in 2000 through to the opening of the theatre in 2003. John continued to give legal advice of all types, from setting TAPAC up as an incorporated society, building contracts, employment and around remediation work for weathertight issues, as long as he could.
Towards the end, when his cancer finally overcame his resistance to it, John spent time, from his hospital bed, counselling and supporting a stranger in the same room who was mentally struggling with the same diagnosis. That was typical of him.
The profession, John’s wife Michèle and their children Sophie and Daniel have lost a kind, intelligent, funny man. A truly professional practitioner who believed that lawyers are foremost servants of the people, and that integrity and commitment are cornerstones. A strong supporter of the arts and a man who loved his family above all else. We are all much the better for having known John and much the poorer for his passing.
Judge Martin Treadwell
Immigration and Protection Tribunal
(with gratitude to Tim McBride and Phillipa Mitchell for their advice and assistance)