New Zealand Law Society - Priesthood tempted Jag-loving crime barrister

Priesthood tempted Jag-loving crime barrister

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He had a brief university dalliance with the idea of becoming a catholic priest but new President of the Criminal Bar Association Noel Sainsbury says he was not entirely sure he would have been cut out for that, for various reasons.

"I always wanted to do law," says Noel.

Noel Joseph (Noel) Sainsbury
Entry to law
Graduated LLB from Victoria University in 1984. Admitted 1985. 
Barrister Sole, Wellington. 
Speciality area
Criminal law.
Noel Sainsbury
Noel Sainsbury

"My dad's brother was a lawyer, his father was a lawyer, his uncle was a lawyer and granddad was a lawyer… My great grandfather qualified in England, came out to New Zealand and set up practice in Napier… They were all lawyers, working away at the law…

"Law is very much what I like doing." 

"I briefly toyed with the idea of doing medicine - probably a symptom of watching too much MASH - and a lot of school friends went into medicine… I did Med Intermediate but that quickly convinced me it was not the best move in the world so I went back to Plan A - law…

"I also liked the idea of architecture, but sensibly I think the reality of it is more dispiriting…

"Architecture still interests me… I spent most of my first year at Vic not studying, down in the stack room in the basement with old books…"

There Noel saw copies of plans of Sir Edwin Lutyen's designs for Liverpool Catholic Cathedral - known as the cathedral that never was - and an original vision so ambitious even the finely detailed model was never finished.

"This fascinated me… how they put things together and designed space…

"I took a year off to tour the States on a debating tour while at university… Victoria had an incredible advantage and a mortgage on debating… The Americans would invite a debating team to tour, they would put us up, and we'd go round all the different universities… Fantastic… I went over with my mate who was my locking partner…"

Starting off in a small Upper Hutt firm, Noel did a spell with the Crown in Wellington and served several years at Bell Gully before returning to crime work.

He describes his commercial litigation years at Bell Gully as being like the Battle of the Somme - "millions gone, nothing really achieved and you don't necessarily get into court…"

A Hurricanes fan and a "long suffering follower of Wellington  rugby, who haven't quite delivered to their potential…" he played mainly social rugby "very badly" into his 30s, enjoys walking and swimming and time at the family's 1930s "asbestos bach" at Raumati.

A history buff, his reading tastes include English history - particularly the English civil war - Roman and Greek history, the American Revolution, early Saxon and Normal history and the histories of both world wars.

"I'm working my way through Sir Max Hastings' Catastrophe at the moment - the first year of World War I.

"I like contemporary American political history, partly because it borders on what I lived through, the Johnson and Nixon years and Attorney General John Mitchell…

"My brother lives in Washington with his American wife, who is very much into Democrat politics, and we talk frequently about America being at a turning point from a country changing for a predominantly white-dominated society to where the old classic white anglo saxon American is going to be in the minority…

"A good book to read is Joe Bageant's Deer Hunting With Jesus- Dispatches From America's Class War (described as 'a call to arms for fellow progressives with little real understanding of the great beery, NASCAR-loving, church-going, gun-owning America that has never set foot in a Starbucks.')"

A watcher of history television when he can - especially the acclaimed documentary series Russia's War: Blood Upon The Snow (narrated by Henry Kissinger) - Noel likes actors Michael (The Singing Detective) Gambon, Harvey Keitel and Tommy Lee Jones.

He is married to English solicitor and writer Victoria McCullough. Noel's oldest daughter is studying law in Melbourne, his son is a qualified chef considering environmental studies at university and his youngest daughter is studying engineering in Christchurch.

"As a classic tail-end baby boomer I like the Rolling Stones, Beatles, Bowie, glam rock, Move, ELO, Neil Young , Counting Crows, Amercian ska, Reel Big Fish, and - to the perpetual mocking of my family - John Philip Sousa's classic brass band music…

"I like opera, conventional classical music - Beethoven and Schubert…

"I'm keen on a Mongolian folk band I saw at Womad and a fan of North African Tuareg guitarist Bombino, who my son and I saw open for Robert Plant (Led Zeppelin lead singer) in Washington in 2013…

"I tried to learn the piano and at my height I would have been a barely competent typist…"

Away from law, family, music and history, Noel's great love is his 1997 Jaguar XJR, a 4 litre straight six and the first of the supercharged Jags.

"I thoroughly love it; it's a magnificent classic shape, the last of the same classic proportions Sir William Lyons put together for the Series 1… It's totally impractical, has a small boot and not much space inside - a kind of reverse Tardis…But its proportions are beautiful…

"I'm not sure I would enjoy the company at dinner of musicians and writers I like… They could be crashing bores or completely egocentric… They say you should never meet your heroes…

"I like having friends I know and we play around with idea and fun… The ideal dinner guests may be less than ideal…

"Being a crime lawyer is to do with people and is always fascinating… It has a set turnover, you do a case, sort it out, finish it, put the file away and go to the next one…

"Law is what I very much like doing."

Jock Anderson has been writing and commenting on New Zealand lawyers and New Zealand's courts for most of his career in journalism. Contact Jock at

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