New Zealand Law Society - Capital 150

Capital 150

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To start, why is Wellington capital?

While it was decided that the capital should be in a more central location than Auckland, Wellington was not the automatic choice. The recommendation of Wellington was actually made by Australians.

On 25 November 1863 the House of Representatives and on 30 November 1863 the Legislative Council resolved that it was time for the permanent position of the seat of Government to be placed in a more central position "that is to say, somewhere upon the shores of Cooks' Straits". To avoid any suggestion of bias, the Governors of New South Wales, Victoria and Tasmania were asked to appoint an independent tribunal of commissioners.

The three Commissioners – who were each paid five Guineas a day and given the use of a steamboat – started at Wellington, proceeded to Whanganui (that is how it was spelled in their report of 3 October 1864) and then travelled to Picton "and minutely examined Queen Charlotte's Sound and the Tory Channel". Detailed examinations of Blenheim, Port Underwood, land south and east of the Wairau Valley, Pelorus Sound, Havelock, Nelson, Blind Bay and its various harbours were made before they ended up in Nelson.

The Commissioners arrived at the unanimous conclusion that Wellington was the site which presented the greatest advantages for the administration of the government of the colony.

What did it cost?

The cost of removal of the seat of government from Auckland to Wellington was assessed as £54,665/5/9 in a report by Assistant Treasurer J Woodward to the House of Representatives on 9 August 1865. There was another £37/10/0 for one quarter's rent of buildings on Lambton Quay. A significant part of the expense – £9,497/8/8 – was compensation paid to the civil servants and others who had to move to Wellington from Auckland. The Governor, Sir George Grey, was paid £1,125 of this.

Historic black and white photo of the Parliament Buildings in Molesworth street
Parliament buildings, Molesworth St. The section on the right was built as the Provincial Buildings in 1857. When central government was moved to Wellington it became Parliament Buildings. The building was also used for Supreme Court sessions at one time. It was replaced by the General Assembly Library in 1899. The wooden building on the left was built in 1873, and was destroyed by fire in 1907. Ref: 1/2-018471-F. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand.


The first parliamentary sitting in Wellington

New Zealand had two houses of parliament in 1865. At 2pm on 26 July 1865 the Governor ("in a very clear and distinct voice", the Wellington Independent reported) addressed both houses in the Legislative Council Chamber.

MPs in the Debating Chamber
Unidentified Members of Parliament in the debating chamber, Parliament Buildings, Wellington, circa 1890s (and prior to the 1907 fire which destroyed this building). Ref: 1/1-006657-G. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand.


Twenty minutes later the Speaker of the House of Representatives took the chair on his return from the Upper House. Five new members were sworn in, a petition "from certain Natives at Rangatikei" was presented and read in Māori, and the first parliamentary notice of motion in Wellington was given: "That a House Committee be appointed for the Session … with a view to provide for the comfort and convenience of Members of both Houses …"

The first legislation introduced in Wellington was a bill "for indemnifying persons acting in the suppression of the Native Insurrection". This was later passed as the Indemnity Act 1865 (29 Victoriae 1865 No 1). After its first sitting in Wellington, which took three months, Parliament managed to pass 75 statutes.


Parliament Buildings

The Attorney-General is the senior Law Officer of the Crown with principal responsibility for the Government's administration of the law. This function is exercised in conjunction with the Solicitor-General, who is the junior Law Officer and head of Crown Law. As senior Law Officer of the Crown, the Attorney-General acts independently and free of political considerations. The Attorney-General is usually also a Minister of the Crown with portfolio responsibilities not connected with the role of Attorney-General.

Photo of the exterior of Parliament buildings
Parliament buildings today, Molesworth Street. The Parliament Building was constructed between 1912 and 1922. It replaced the gothic Parliament House which had been completed in 1873 and burnt down in 1907. The chamber was first used in 1918.


While there is some debate, New Zealand's first Attorney-General was Francis Fisher, a Sydney Crown Solicitor who was appointed by Governor Hobson in May 1841. On 18 October 1841 English barrister William Swainson was sworn in and remained Attorney-General until 1856 when responsible government was established. Frederick Whittaker, founder of Bell Gully, succeeded him in that year.

New Zealand's Attorney-General in 1865 when Wellington became the capital was Henry Sewell. It was the third time he had been in the role and he left office (for the last time) on 16 October 1865. He was succeeded by James Prendergast, later Chief Justice, who was also appointed the first President of the New Zealand Law Society.

The current Attorney-General, Christopher Finlayson QC, was appointed to the role on 19 November 2008 and became a Queen's Counsel on 13 December 2013. He is also Minister for Treaty of Waitangi Negotiations.

Court of Appeal

Corner Aitken Street and Molesworth Street

The Court of Appeal was established in 1862 and was made up of Supreme Court (now named High Court) judges sitting periodically in panels. It operated this way for 95 years until a permanent court was established. This sat for the first time on 17 February 1958, initially in the Wellington Supreme Court building. The court moved to the Public Trust building in February 1960 where it remained until the official opening of the new purpose-built building on 12 May 1980 by Prime Minister Robert Muldoon.

Supreme Court of New Zealand

85 Lambton Quay

Removal of the Privy Council as New Zealand's highest court was debated for a long time. In 1904, Sir Robert Stout CJ proposed that the Court of Appeal should be our final appellate court (which was contrary to the position then taken by the New Zealand Law Society). The debate continued spasmodically over the next century until 1 July 2004 with the first sitting of the Supreme Court of New Zealand.

Photo of the interior of the Old High Court
Old High Court Building, Stout Street. Completed in March 1881, the Supreme Court Building was the first major government building of masonry construction in Wellington. It was used throughout the 20th century and was the first home of the permanent Court of Appeal. It has now been fully restored to retain the original design


In its submission on the Supreme Court Bill, the Law Society noted that views within the profession differed. "The submission the Society does make in relation to possible abolition of Privy Council appeals is one on which all lawyers are likely to agree: it is of vital importance that the existing appeal structure is not altered unless what is put in its place is of high quality."

On the bench for the historic first sitting were Rt Hon Justice Blanchard, Rt Hon Justice Gault, Rt Hon Dame Sian Elias, Chief Justice, Rt Hon Sir Kenneth Keith, and Rt Hon Justice Tipping. Of the original bench, Dame Sian remains.

The new Supreme Court building was opened on 18 January 2010 by Prince William. Chief Justice Dame Sian Elias noted that the Queen had sent a "magnificent" silver inkwell from the Royal Treasury to the court.

"Two such inkwells are placed before the judges of the Privy Council whenever they sit to advise the monarch on petitions for justice, as they did on appeals from New Zealand for 165 years. The display of the inkwell in this new courtroom symbolises links that endure and a heritage of which we are proud.

"It is the aspiration of justice under law which promoted the creation of the court. And it is in response to the aspiration that this government, the government that preceded it and the people of New Zealand they represent have incurred the substantial cost of providing a permanent home for the court, within the government precinct in our capital."

The Ministry of Justice

Justice Centre, 19 Aitken St

With over 3,400 staff the ministry is at the hub of New Zealand's justice system. The staff are found at 100 locations around the country, but executive staff are based at the head office in the Justice Centre in Wellington.

In the year to 30 June 2014 the Ministry of Justice received income of $585.101 million and incurred expenditure of $582.768 million.

panorama of the Justice Centre in Wellington
The central atrium of the Justice Centre, Aitken St. Also known as the Vogel Centre, it was completed in 2011 following an extensive redevelopment which saw a new seven-storey building being built alongside the 14-storey Vogel Building, dating from the 1960s.The two buildings are connected by a central six-storey atrium.


Andrew Bridgeman, Secretary of Justice, says:

"The Ministry of Justice leads the sector which also includes the Department of Corrections, NZ Police, Serious Fraud Office and Crown Law Office. We're one of the larger agencies with 3,300 staff in 92 locations, including 1,800 staff in Wellington.

"Our role is to deliver court and tribunal services including the collection of fines and reparation, administer legal aid, manage the Public Defence Service, provide policy advice, and negotiate Treaty of Waitangi claims on behalf of the Government. The Ministry also supports the judiciary.

"The work of the Ministry touches on the lives of thousands of New Zealanders. There are more than 3 million visitors to our website and more than a million calls to our call centres. Last year 137,000 criminal cases and 19,000 civil cases were disposed of in the High Court and District Courts along with 60,000 substantive applications in the Family Court. We processed 450,000 applications for criminal records and received 80,000 applications for legal aid.

"Modernising the justice system across policy and legislation, infrastructure, processes and systems is a key pillar of our strategy, bringing it into the 21st century while respecting the traditions of our courts established in the 1840s. Our focus is to deliver the best possible service for the New Zealand public every day, and last year we saw a 21.5% reduction in the age of District Court criminal cases."

Crown Law Office

Level 3, Justice Centre, 19 Aitken Street

The Crown Law Office has 176 staff, made up of lawyers and administrative staff. This includes 11 based in Auckland. In the year to 30 June 2014 Crown Law received income of $41.841 million and incurred expenditure of $41.148 million.

Mike Heron QC, Solicitor-General and Chief Executive, Crown Law Office, says:

"Crown Law and the office of the Solicitor-General has been an institution in Wellington since 1875. This year we marked 140 years of both offices. Over those years we have dealt with the most complex, difficult and important public law issues and cases.

"Crown Law is responsible for the conduct and supervision of the prosecution of serious crime through the Crown Solicitor network. We provide oversight of and issue guidelines for all public prosecutions.

"Crown Law leads the Government Legal Network which is the network of approximately 800 lawyers across all of central government. That network is instrumental in assisting with the management of Crown legal risk and GLN lawyers now have a centrally led network to enhance the quality and value of legal services to Government.

"Every day lawyers from the Crown Law Office are representing or advising central Government on the whole range of legal issues including the Crown-Māori relationship, criminal cases, Constitutional issues, matters relating to intelligence and security, civil claims against the Crown and much more. We are proud to serve the Crown and uphold the rule of law."

Parliamentary Counsel Office

Level 12, Reserve Bank Building, 2 The Terrace

Much of New Zealand's law is drafted by the Parliamentary Counsel Office (Inland Revenue Bills are the exception). The Parliamentary Counsel Office (PCO) also manages and maintains the New Zealand Legislation website which provides access to the official version of our statutes and legislative instruments.

In 1842 Attorney-General William Swainson drafted the Conveyancing Ordinance 1842, which was seen as a fine achievement. He continued to draft the colony's legislation until he left the role in 1856 and it was not until 1877 that the office of Law Draftsman was created. The first holder was former Clerk of the Legislative Council John Curnin.

The Parliamentary Counsel Office became a separate office of Parliament under the control of the Attorney-General in 1920. Today the PCO has around 170 staff. Its latest annual report says the Office drafted 62 Government Bills and 499 Legislative Instruments in the 2013 calendar year. In the year to 30 June 2014 the PCO received income of $19.396 million and incurred expenditure of $17.291 million.

The Chief Parliamentary Counsel, David Noble, was recently reappointed until 6 May 2016.

The New Zealand Law Society

26 Waring Taylor Street

The first qualified lawyer to land in New Zealand was Richard Davies Hanson, who arrived on 3 January 1840 at Port Nicholson in the boat Cuba. He was aged 34 and Land Purchase Officer to the New Zealand Company. Mr Hanson became Wellington's first Crown Prosecutor and also founded what is New Zealand's oldest continuing operating law firm, Treadwells. He left New Zealand in 1846 and died in 1876 as Sir Richard Hanson, having been Premier, Attorney-General and Chief Justice of South Australia.

The New Zealand Law Society originated from a Bill which was introduced into the Legislative Council on 27 July 1869 by FD Fenton (who at the time was Chief Judge of the Native Land Court). The Bill was largely based on the English Law Society's second Charter which had been granted in 1845. It was passed and received the Royal Assent on 3 September 1869.

The Governor was required to appoint the first President, Vice-President and Council. By warrant on 19 February 1870 he appointed the Attorney-General, James Prendergast, as President, and the Vice-President was Thomas Smith Duncan, first President of the Canterbury Law Society.

"It seems that after Mr Prendergast became Chief Justice in 1875 no successor had been elected. So far as can be ascertained … the Governor's power [to appoint the President whenever the office had been vacant for three months] was not exercised. The melancholy fact may be that the New Zealand Law Society had no President between 1875 and 1897," says Portrait of a Profession (page 147).

exterior of the Law Society building
New Zealand Law Society national office, Waring Taylor St. Officially opened on 14 May 1964 by the Governor-General Sir Bernard Fergusson, the building houses the majority of NZLS administrative and support staff, as well as the Wellington Branch and the New Zealand Council of Legal Education.


While it definitely operated during that time, the New Zealand Law Society was revitalised in 1896 when the Law Practitioners and New Zealand Law Society Acts Amendment Act 1896 was passed on 12 October. The first meeting with the new structure was held on 3 May 1897 and WS Reid, the Solicitor-General, was elected President. Mr Reid had first practised in Wellington in 1865 and had been Solicitor-General for 25 years when he retired in November 1900.

Since then the New Zealand Law Society has had 29 Presidents and has played an important role in the capital, providing an independent connection between the executive, legislature, judiciary and governmental organisations. At 8 July 2015 there were 12,069 practising lawyers. Of those, 11,807 had chosen to be members of the New Zealand Law Society, making it the largest lawyer membership organisation in the country.

New Zealand Law Society President Chris Moore says:

"For over a century the New Zealand Law Society has made full use of its location in the heart of New Zealand's capital. Our justice system is an important facet of our society and the courts and legal profession have important roles. The ability to interact with the Government, the civil service and the judiciary has always been a key objective of the Law Society and proximity is a powerful enabler.

"Today, in 2015, the New Zealand Law Society continues to make the most of its location in our capital. With Executive Director Christine Grice, I have the opportunity to meet regularly with the Minister of Justice, Attorney-General and other members of the Government. Law Society staff and law reform committee members also meet regularly with the judiciary, the staff of justice sector agencies and others involved in inputs into our justice system. Attend any select committee hearing on important legislation and it is likely the New Zealand Law Society will appear at some stage to provide expert advice and input on the reform of our law.

"It is important to stress that the Law Society is an independent voice. The Law Society has a clear belief that the ability to advocate effectively is achieved by continuing to collaborate and consult rather than to confront and distance. We have developed good working relationships with the Government, government agencies and other organisations. We are a short walk away from almost all of the bodies which make up our legal system.

"However, our role is clear. We are responsible for ensuring that consumers of legal services enjoy the benefits of a competent and high performing legal profession. We will use our unique position to continue to be a highly effective legal regulator. We will never hesitate to speak out when we believe the rule of law or human rights are put at risk. And we will use our working relationships to ensure that lawyers' rights and roles are not impeded and that access to our justice system is maintained and enhanced.

"The New Zealand Law Society has been an important participant in the life of Wellington as the seat of government. We will continue to be so."

Law Commission

Level 19, 171 Featherston St

The Law Commission was formed on 1 February 1986. Its role is to promote the systematic review, reform and development of the law of New Zealand. The Commission is an independent Crown Entity which reviews the law and makes recommendations for improvement. Its reports are tabled in Parliament, which then decides on whether to act on the recommendations.

In its Statement of Intent for 2015-16, the Commission says it has 16.9 FTE staff in addition to the President and three Commissioners. In the year to 30 June 2014, the Commission received income of $4.137 million and incurred expenditure of $4.367 million.

Five of the Law Commission's Presidents since its inception have served on the Court of Appeal. The exception, Sir Geoffrey Palmer, has served in very many other facets of New Zealand's justice system.

Law Commission Presidents

Period President
1986 – 1991  Sir Owen Woodhouse
1991 – 1996 Sir Kenneth Keith
1996 – 2001 Sir David Baragwanath
2001 – 2005 Sir Bruce Robertson
2005 – 2010 Sir Geoffrey Palmer
2010 – Sir Grant Hammond

New Zealand Council of Legal Education

Level 1, 26 Waring Taylor St

Sharing part of the New Zealand Law Society's building, the Council is an independent statutory body with responsibility for the quality and provision of legal training needed by people who want to be admitted as a barrister and solicitor of the High Court. It is funded by an annual levy of $25 from each practising lawyer.

The Council was established in 1930. Until then legal education and the requirements for admission to the profession were the responsibility of the judiciary of New Zealand pursuant to colonial ordinances and Acts of Parliament, and prescribed in consecutive sets of Judges' Rules.

This was then delegated by the judiciary to the University of New Zealand, which was founded in 1870. In 1925 a Royal Commission examined a number of matters relating to university education which led to the Council of Legal Education being established in 1930.

Council members (and nominating bodies) are two High Court Judges (Chief Justice), one District Court Judge (Chief District Court Judge), five lawyer members (NZ Law Society), one lay member (Minister of Justice), two student members (NZ Law Students' Association) and not more than one member (NZ Council of Legal Education). The Council is managed by the Chief Executive, Rosemary Gordon.

New Zealand Council of Law Reporting Incorporated

The Council operates pursuant to the New Zealand Council of Law Reporting Act 1938 and has published New Zealand's official New Zealand Law Reports since 1881. The first case in NZLR is Smith v Mackenzie (1880) 1 NZLR (CA) 1.

For its first century, the Council produced the familiar hardcopy volumes of NZLR. Electronic publication on CD Rom began in 1994. LexisNexis NZ Ltd, which publishes NZLR on behalf of the Council, started producing digital copies of NZLR on 21 October 1997. An online NZLR database was launched on 1 January 2001. This went back to 1958. Back capture of pre-1958 cases in digital format began in 2007 and the whole NZLR series, from 1880 onwards has been available electronically from 1 December 2012.

The tenth anniversary of the Supreme Court was marked in July 2014 by publication of a new law report series, the eight-volume Supreme Court Reports.

The Council's latest initiative has been launch of a transactional (pay per case) website on 1 March 2015 where anyone may purchase a court-ready version of the NZLR report of a case.

The Council is chaired by the Attorney-General, Christopher Finlayson QC. Its other members (and the appointing person or organisation) are: Justice Winkelman (appointed by the Chief Justice), Michael Heron QC (appointed by the Solicitor-General), Christopher Finlayson (appointed by the President of New Zealand Law Society), Karen Clark QC, Christine Grice (Deputy Chair), Warwick Deuchrass, Prue Robertson, Jonathan Temm (all appointed by the New Zealand Law Society).

The Council (not incorporated until 1938) published the NZLR since 1881. One year after establishing its NZ office, in 1915, Butterworths/LexisNexis took over publishing NZLR on behalf of the Council.

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