By Jock Anderson
- Tracey Jean (Tracey) Walker, Special Counsel
- Lincoln, England.
- Entry to law
- Graduated LLB/BA from Auckland University, LLM University College, London. Admitted in 1988.
- Special Counsel in commercial litigation group and former partner with Simpson Grierson, Auckland.
- Specialist areas
- Communication issues including defamation, court reporting and suppression, corporate reputation, enforcement of intellectual property rights, and sale and marketing issues.
After getting through law school debt free by catwalk fashion modelling – a la Benson & Hedges Fashion Awards - Tracey Walker’s practising certificate was hurried up for her first case – straight into the Court of Appeal.
One of a fresh intake of young lawyers at Simpson Grierson, the firm’s media law specialist Willie Akel wanted her to appear in a real estate case involving an appellant who is now a District Court judge.
“I was planning to carry the bags but the night before Willie said there was a small point he wanted me to argue on whether interest was payable if a deposit is returned…”
Having hastily read up on Peter Blanchard’s (later Justice Sir Peter Blanchard of the Supreme Court) book on the law of agency, Tracey advanced his footnote that interest would not have been payable because the deposit would have been held by the real estate agency and shouldn’t be included in the analysis at issue.
Court President Justice Sir Robin Cooke (later Lord Cooke of Thorndon), was taking notes and she repeated the argument twice, wondering “this could be good or bad.”
“We won on that point, and I am forever indebted to Justice Blanchard.”
After a year in the Knightsbridge office of UK “magic circle” firm Slaughter and May and more than 20 years with Simpson Grierson - rising to a partnership in 1997 – she was at the top of her game.
Along with Mr Akel, she has advised and represented the media – mainly Television New Zealand and TV3 - in numerous high-profile cases, including winning the right in the Supreme Court for TVNZ to broadcast a police video showing Noel Clement Rogers – who was acquitted of murder – confessing to the crime.
While critical of the police for releasing the video to the media, the Supreme Court ruled Mr Rogers’ right to privacy was outweighed by the interests of open justice.
One of her most celebrated clients – and one she can’t talk about, other than refer to court judgments – is Kim Dotcom, mainly in his dispute with Hollywood entertainment companies.
The daughter of a decorated Royal Air Force Kiwi wing commander (a former private pilot to the Maharaja of Jaipur) and a Canadian mother whose first husband’s plane went down in the Bermuda Triangle, Tracey came to New Zealand as a baby.
Always wanting to be a journalist, she fell into law.
“I didn’t particularly enjoy law school and was hardly ever there.”
“I would have loved to be a court reporter. All the journalists I worked with at TVNZ wanted to be lawyers because they loved the debate and argument.”
A keen interest in media law and reputation developed – in 2012 she wrote Reputation Matters – A Practical Legal Guide to Managing Reputation Risk – and has contributed to several international texts on media law.
She acknowledges the new challenges of internet defamation, the potential liability of search engines, the role of intermediaries and responsibility for website links.
An advocate of an overhaul of New Zealand defamation law, she says defamation is still an important principle on the web for example, “but it is a question of practicality – who is responsible for it and what to do about it.”
So is a blogger a journalist – as the High Court ruled this month in the case of Whale Oil blogger Cameron Slater?
“Being a journalist should not be dictated by platform. A blogger can certainly be a journalist, but my concern is with independence.”
“If a blogger is not truly independent why should they have the privileges of a journalist?”
“With freedom of expression comes responsibilities and that’s where I see the real problems arising.”
Retiring from her partnership after a health scare in 2013, being a special counsel allows her to have a better work/life balance, pick and chose cases, train on her bike and be with her teenage family. “But the hard thing is saying no to cases.”
Stepping back has allowed her to do more pro bono work, particularly with the international centre for missing and exploited children (ICMEC), in the establishment of an Asia Pacific financial coalition.
“We are working to form a collaboration between law enforcement and financial institutions to disrupt the profitability of trading in child abuse imagery – to ensure law enforcement has the best means of disrupting its commerciality.”
“Our role is to work through the legal issues to show the obstacles to that collaboration are not as difficult as first perceived.”
Twenty five years on from her Court of Appeal debut Tracey and her “weekend warrior” husband Gavin Lennox are taking on new challenges – cycling some of the toughest bike tours in the world.
As a 50th birthday present for Gavin, and after getting herself a bike and doing six months training, they joined a group of cyclists who this year tackled two of the toughest climbs on the Tour de France – the 1,912m Mt Ventoux (nicknamed The Beast) and the 2,600m Col du Galibier – at the same time as the tour was in full swing.
“It is fantastic… you ride either the day before or the day after the tour goes through and there are thousands of people lining the route, most of them drunk, cheering you on…”
“It is terrifying. On my bike I’m thinking of risk management and figuring out legal stuff…”
Next year, after a warmup with the slow group on the Tour of Northland, they are off to follow the Giro d’Italia through the infamous 2,757m Stelvio Pass, which, with its 48 hairpin turns, was declared the greatest driving road in the world by motoring show Top Gear.
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 email@example.com.