Long tradition continues as prosecutor becomes judge

By Doug Laing

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A long history of Napier Crown prosecutors heading to the judicial benches of New Zealand continues with the appointment of Russell Collins as a District Court judge to be based in Auckland.

The appointment was announced by Attorney-General Chris Finlayson earlier this month and Mr Collins will be sworn-in at a courtroom ceremony in Napier on December 10.

The last five Napier Crown prosecutors, spanning almost 60 years, have become judges, dating back to Justice Sir Owen Woodhouse, who was Crown prosecutor from 1953 to his appointment as a judge of the former Supreme Court (now the High Court) in 1961.

Now 96 and living in Auckland, he became a judge of the Court of Appeal, and was also appointed to the Privy Council, and was president of the Law Commission for five years.

The late Justice Sir Gordon Bisson was Crown prosecutor in Napier from 1961 to 1978, also becoming a judge of the Supreme Court as it was structured at that time. He was replaced by Geoff Rea, who has been a District Court judge since 1995, when he was replaced by Justice Graham Lang, who was appointed to the High Court in 2002.

He was succeeded in the prosecuting role by Mr Collins, who grew up in Napier, son of well-known and now retired rugby radio commentator Brian Collins, with whom he shared the distinction of captaining Hastings' St John's College First XV from first five-eighths.

The rugby career was curtailed during law studies at Victoria University, and graduating with Arts and Law degrees he was admitted to the Bar in 1988, working initially for eight years in the thoroughbred racing industry, before returning to Hawke's Bay and joining Elvidge and Partners.

He has prosecuted in many major trials in the High and District Courts in Napier, as well as Gisborne, where he has also held the Crown prosecutor warrant since 2006, and in other parts of the country, including Wellington.

His major sports interest in Hawke's Bay has been surf lifesaving while he is also chairman of Swim Heretaunga, a trust position he will be relinquishing. He was also a member of the Eastern and Central Community Trust, a position he relinquished in 2007.

The legal connection in the family took another step last year when son Liam was admitted to the Bar, joining high-profile Wellington barrister Greg King, for whom he worked up till Mr King's death earlier this month.

- Hawkes Bay Today

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