New Zealand Law Society - Major Steven James Taylor, AE

Major Steven James Taylor, AE

Stephen James Taylor had a distinguished 46 year career at the bar that reflected his combined love of the armed services and the law, Andra Mobberley writes. A Special Sitting will be held at the Masterton District Court on 11 December 2020 at 4 pm to commemorate Steve’s lifetime contribution to the legal profession.

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Stephen James Taylor was born in Lower Hutt on 27 October 1947 and passed away unexpectedly from a heart attack at his home in Masterton on 4 October 2020 aged 72.

Steve attended Wellington College from 1961 to 1966. His ambition was to have a career in the Police and he joined the Police Cadets from school. However, Steve’s idea of fun and entertainment was at odds with the Police College’s rules and regulations. After an incident involving a motorbike ride in the corridors of the police training establishment, Steve and the Police decided to part ways.

The Armed Services formed a large part of Steve’s life. He had a strong sense of service to his country. In his early years, Steve was a member of the NZ Cadet Corps at school. He enlisted as a sailor in the Royal New Zealand Naval Volunteer Reserve at HMNZS Olphert in Wellington in December 1966. He served in the Volunteer Reserve until 23 June 1969.

Photo of Steven James Taylor
Steven James Taylor

Steve attended Law School at Canterbury University. He participated fully in university activities both in and out of the lecture rooms. He was President of the Law Students’ Society and was on the Canterbury debating team. He introduced several innovations to sporting activities for the Canterbury capping week. For example, the customary ‘Mile Run’ was run over four laps. Steve modified the event by introducing a requirement that, at the end of each lap, every participant was required to ‘scoff a pie and down a pint’. It did not take long for the inevitable to happen. Thus, Steve was responsible for the introduction of the notorious ‘chunda mile’.

Steve was admitted to the bar in 1974 and commenced practice as barrister sole in 1989. He was in private practise for more than 30 years. He practiced in Marton, Whanganui, Blenheim, the Wellington region and Masterton.

His practise extended to criminal law, family law and employment law. Steve appeared before the District Court, Employment Authority, Family Court, Youth Court, High Court, Court of Appeal, Courts Martial, the Courts Martial Appeal Court, and numerous tribunals. He appeared at inquests and conducted mediations and was an accredited arbitrator.

The many highlights of Steve’s domestic legal career included appearing in murder cases and as counsel for the NZDF at the Royal Commission into the Pike River Coal Mine Tragedy. He was an accomplished jury trial advocate with an talent for swaying a jury with his inimitable style of gentle persuasion and understatement.

On 22 October 1982, he engaged in the Territorial Air Force (TAF) of the Royal New Zealand Air Force, as a legal officer at the rank of Flight Lieutenant. On 30 September 1988, he was promoted to the rank of Squadron Leader.  Such a promotion reflected the value placed on his service, commitment, and expertise.  He provided legal advice, and appeared in Courts Martial, particularly in Ohakea and Waiouru, at a time when there were no Regular Force legal officers in those locations. He retired from the TAF on completion of his engagement on 27 October 1997. He had qualified for, and been presented with, the Air Efficiency Award as a legal officer of the TAF.

On 14 November 1999, Steve re-engaged with the Defence Force, this time as a Territorial Force (TF) legal officer in the New Zealand Army Legal Service, in the rank of Major (equivalent to his previous rank of Squadron Leader). Steve served with the New Zealand Defence Force both as a part-time Territorial and a full-time legal officer. In January 2001, he was released from the TF into the Regular Force (RF) to serve as a legal officer in East Timor. 

His six-month tour, from May to November 2001, was as the NZ legal officer in Timor-Leste, in the United Nations Transitional Administration in East Timor mission. That operational deployment qualified him for the New Zealand Operational Service Medal, the UNTAET Medal, and the East Timor Medal. Following his return to NZ he was released from the RF back to the TF in May 2002.

In September 2003, Steve was released from the TF back to the RF, where he served in various posts in NZ as a legal officer. His final posting was as the Assistant Director of Legal Training and the Wellington Regional Legal Officer, based out of the NZDF Command and Staff College. He retired from the Regular Force on 24 February 2012. 

Subsequently, Steve continued to appear in the Court Martial of New Zealand as counsel, and was appointed by the Judge Advocate General to be the representative of the Armed Forces Defence Counsel Panel on the Armed Forces Discipline Committee pursuant to s 160(2)(i) of the Armed Forces Discipline Act 1971; a position he still held when he passed away.

A singular feature of Steve’s military career is that he had served in all three Services. This is a very rare achievement in a military career.  He also served in both Regular and Territorial Forces, and this was reflected in the clasps on his NZ Defence Service Medal.

Steve appeared in courts martial, representing both air force and army personnel, and as a prosecutor, from the early eighties. It is a mark of Steve’s professionalism and skills that he was the representative of the Armed Forces Defence Counsel Panel up to the time of his death.

Steve was generous with his time and gave back to the profession. His contributions included being past president of the President of the Wanganui District Law Society; Council Member of the Marlborough District Law Society; the incumbent President of the Wairarapa Criminal Bar Association; a member of Armed Forces Courts Martial Defence Panel and a committee member of the Armed Forces Law Association of New Zealand; Chairman, Honorary Counsel & New Zealand Delegate to the NZ Prisoners’ Aid & Rehabilitation Society.

He had a strong sense of social justice and was dedicated to helping those less advantaged. This aspect of his work was of great importance for him.  He felt keenly the duties owed both to the client and to the court, and his service to both was exemplary. He was held in high esteem by his colleagues in the profession. In one family law case Judge P F Boshier, Wellington Family Court, Hearing 28-30 January 2013, Judgment 30 January 2013 commented:

‘I want to single you out, Mr Taylor, for the way you have gone about your task. You have a client who is very vulnerable. On the one hand, you have been your client's advocate to act on her instructions. On the other hand, you have been there to support and advise. You have done it expertly. It is a lesson to others.’ 

Steve became fully involved in local community activities where ever he lived.

Steve was a devoted family man. He is survived by his wife Diana, his four children, Catherine, Rachael, Sarah and Andrew, four grandchildren,  and brother Bruce and his sister Gillian.

When Steve died suddenly of a heart attack aged 72 he was still a dedicated practitioner. He worked diligently to serve the needs of his clients, the profession and the interests of justice in the community. Within the legal profession Steve was a mentor to many and a friend to all. 

It is a measure of the love and respect in which Steve is held, that there is to be a special sitting of the Masterton Court to mark Steve’s passing. 

The Special Sitting will be held at the Masterton District Court on 11 December 2020 at 4 pm. RSVP to Alysha Davidson, Masterton District Court Email:

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