Twelve Questions

Sarah Daniell poses 12 questions to well-known faces

Twelve Questions with Bill Hastings

District Court Judge Bill Hastings was chief censor for nearly 12 years. He came to New Zealand from his homeland, Canada. He has three grown up children and lives in Wellington.

Bill Hastings says he has dreams of being a gardener. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Bill Hastings says he has dreams of being a gardener. Photo / Mark Mitchell

1. What's your guiding personal philosophy as a judge?

I always tell my family and friends this when they ask me about being in court, day in, day out, that I believe in the power of redemption. Any human being can redeem themselves. I don't think I could be in this job if I didn't believe that.

2. What happens when your belief doesn't match the reality? When have you not been able to see the potential for redemption?

Sometimes it is hard to see that in people. I remember being at a District Court in the provinces and there was a young man who had been charged with assault on a school kid. This teenager was addicted to petrol. He sniffed it and drank it. I was told he once had won a Duke of Edinburgh award. And now he rides around on his bike with a can around his neck. It challenges your belief. I drove back to Wellington after that, frustrated and upset. You feel powerless. But you have to toughen up a bit. You can't be a quivering bowl of jelly. You walk the line, representing society's interests and interests of the individual.

3. What do you love most about the law?

I do love the law. People look at me as though I'm nuts when I say that. It's like an accountant saying 'I love auditing.' But the law is pervasive. It provides a framework to answer all our problems as a society and it provides us with tools as a society and individuals. As a judge it's applied theory.

4. What's our greatest constitutional triumph in New Zealand, and what threatens it most?

Our greatest constitutional triumph is the separation of powers. What threatens it most is the executive branch's exercise of power on the individual, and what keeps that power in check is the judiciary. In New Zealand you are presumed innocent till proven guilty. You are entitled to that process.

A lot of people confuse a not guilty finding with innocence. But all that means is the Crown hasn't proven its case against the individual to the required standard.

5. A kid fresh out of school comes up to you and says, "I want to be a lawyer." What do you say?

Don't do it too soon. When I was teaching I would see Year 12 students starting a law degree. Their brains are still developing and to learn the law requires a way of thinking - a narrower way of thinking. You need to think and learn broadly when you're that age. In North America [law is] a post-graduate course. I'm grateful for my liberal BA in arts degree I did first. It provides the breadth and scope of experience to make you a fuller human being.

6. What did you want to be and how did you end up where you are?

I wanted to be a doctor but in biology class at school, we were required to prick our fingers so we could put our blood sample on the glass slide ... I couldn't do it. So the teacher had to do it. Another teacher said, "You're a good talker. You should be a lawyer". In my dream-like other life I'd be a landscape gardener. Working in the hot sun, getting dirt under my nails. Doing physical work and being at one with nature. I don't have a garden because I live in this apartment. I have pots of herbs and I've discovered that poinsettias respond well to neglect. They're looking magnificent.

7. You were Chief Censor for nearly 12 years - why did you stay that long?

They kept reappointing me - National and Labour governments. The Shipley government first appointed me and then Labour. I was pushing it. It wasn't good for the sake of my health. You see too much stuff you can't ever get out of your mind. You need rotation. It was too long, both in terms of the health of the holder of that title and for the health of society.

8. Did you ever make a cut or a restriction to a film or material that you regret?

When I was working at the Video Recordings Authority I made a cut to Henry:Portrait of a Serial Killer. Henry went about killing people and filming it with his friend Otis. There was a scene where they sat in armchairs watching a video of their most recent killing spree, while eating potato chips and drinking beer. We cut it because we thought it treated violence in a light-hearted way. But that scene was pivotal - it implicated the audience ... the director was saying, why are you watching this, like Henry, sitting there in a T-shirt having a beer.

9. You were raised in Canada. Your mother lives in North America, you live here. Where does your heart reside?

It is in two places. I often think, what's going to happen to my body when I die? I think a solution would be to bury my body here, but take my heart and bury it under the summer-house in Ontario. It's the most beautiful place. I had the best childhood. Truly.

10. Your sense of humour - what challenges it?

I do sometimes get black. My kids say they see the black come over me. But they accuse me of being deaf, which annoys me.11. You're cooking dinner - what are we having?

I've just discovered panko crumbs. I'd crumb some lovely gurnard and fry it. If it was a Sunday, I'd get a wing rib from the butcher at Chaffers and I'd stuff it with garlic and roast it. I'm very good at Yorkshire pudding.

12. What is the most appealing quality in a man or a woman?

It's not just one thing. It's a whole package. I think of someone like Leonard Cohen actually - he has this transcendent quality. He's so humble and his singing says what he is ... that's what I like - people who let their acts speak for themselves. I don't think I have these qualities myself, but I admire that.

- NZ Herald

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