Bay celebrates first QC in 35 years

By Doug Laing

FAMILY LAW: Russell Fairbrother after being admitted to the Inner Bar yesterday, flanked by daughter Gretel (left) and wife Pam, also lawyers and both members of the Outer Bar. PHOTO/DUNCAN BROWN HBT133001-20
FAMILY LAW: Russell Fairbrother after being admitted to the Inner Bar yesterday, flanked by daughter Gretel (left) and wife Pam, also lawyers and both members of the Outer Bar. PHOTO/DUNCAN BROWN HBT133001-20

A measure of formality was dispensed with in the most formal of settings yesterday as the Hawke's Bay law fraternity celebrated the region's first installation of a Queen's Counsel in 35 years.

The High Court Call to the Inner Bar in Napier for pre-eminent barrister and criminal law practitioner Russell Fairbrother ended with a haka as the special sitting was being adjourned by Chief Justice Dame Sian Elias.

The haka, Ngati Kahungunu's Tika Tonu, came from a group of 11 pupils of William Colenso College, where Mr Fairbrother, 68, has been a parent, a member of the Board of Trustees for about 14 years and its chairman for a short time.

The group had earlier sung the school waiata across a court festooned with about 25 wigged representatives of the levels of the judiciary.

They included Dame Sian, with the long wig, red gown and silver shoulder cape unique to her position, at the bench with unwigged local judges Anne-Marie Skellern, Bridget Mackintosh and Peter Callinicos.

Gowned and wigged immediately before them were the Inner Bar of Attorney-General Chris Finlayson QC, John Upton QC, and Robert Lithgoe QC, and the newest member from Napier, and behind them about 20 mainly Hawke's Bay Outer Bar members, including Mr Fairbrother's wife, Pam, and Wellington-based daughter Gretel, both also barristers.

Other family from as far away as Auckland and Dunedin occupied the 12 seats of the jury box, and the number in the court was swelled to about 100 by the gathering of other friends in the public gallery.

The half-hour ceremony was delayed for a short while by the late arrival of a flight carrying the Chief Justice and the Attorney-General.

Soon afterwards, she welcomed the gathering to Te Kooti Matua, remarking how donning the "antique" wigs and garmentry had got the day off to an even slower start.

After Mr Fairbrother had completed his brief role in the formalities, and traded bows with the three other Silks of the Inner Bar, Dame Sian addressed the Court on the new QC's career, commenting on the prominence of his legal and court career, as well as six years as a Labour Government member of Parliament.

His career has included representing people from across the face of society, including police and prison officers, and fellow lawyers, some having effect wider than just the cases before the court. His years in Parliament included key roles in the Foreshore and Seabed Act, and the courts' Evidence Act.

The criminal law and court profession was sometimes a "lonely" one, Dame Sian said, and added: "Many practitioners are burned off acting in this environment."

Mr Finlayson, who had first met Mr Fairbrother in debating days in Wellington, commended him on the difficult roles he'd taken on, and facing the criticism sometimes directed at lawyers. He said: "Sometimes you do have to do your bit and stand up for the unpopular client."

Originally from Carterton having left school at the age of 15, and having graduated from Victoria University without ever studying for UE (the high school University Entrance examination), Mr Fairbrother was admitted to the Bar in 1978.

It was soon afterwards that he attended the last Queen's Counsel ceremony in the old Napier Courthouse on Marine Parade, that of the now late Justice Sir Rodney Gallen. While the appointment book was otherwise empty yesterday, it's back to business for Mr Fairbrother QC on Monday, for a trial in the same High Court room, expected to last at least four days.

- Hawkes Bay Today

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