Judith Ablett-Kerr had her first taste of politics about 40 years ago. The 58-year-old Dunedin barrister - who could be swapping the courtroom chambers for the parliamentary chambers as a list candidate for National - was just 18 when she chaired her local branch of the Young Conservatives in Wales.

Although her selection now hangs in the balance after the party was embarrassed by publicity about her potential candidacy last week, supporters say she would be ideal for the world of politics.

Coming from a political family, Ms Ablett-Kerr's father was a conservative councillor and her brother, Dr Michael Ablett stood for the National Party in Dunedin in 1978.

So far, Ms Ablett-Kerr has refused to comment on her possible candidacy, saying she had only really ruled out a position on the bench.

"I'm probably too outspoken. I'm fairly outspoken, you probably know that," she said.

Ms Ablett-Kerr has made her mark working on some of the country's most high-profile criminal cases. Her most "satisfying" case, she says, was Vicky Calder, the Dunedin scientist who was accused of poisoning her former lover, and was acquitted in 1996 after two trials.

"That was a lot of hard work but very pleasurable to receive a result."

Another career highlight was convening the Law Society's criminal committee. She was involved in making at least a dozen submissions on different bills, including the "clean slate" bill.

"It introduced me to the select committees of Parliament and taught me about making submissions and being involved in the development of the justice system through law reform. I found that stimulating."

She is well-known for her legal battles for abused women and the controversial defence of battered women syndrome - which she used in the defence of Gay Oakes, who served time for burying her de facto partner, Douglas Gardner, in the garden. While she lost that case, Ms Ablett-Kerr managed to get her client released on parole in 2002.

She used to think battered women should leave their abusive partners. Her first case fuelled an interest in the topic, and she would like to see a law change.

"My own personal view is that we need to introduce diminished responsibility in New Zealand law."

Her highest profile candidate to date has been Peter Ellis, who she decided to represent after visiting him in prison in 1996, once the trials were all over. She recently phoned him after his heart attack to check he was all right.

Says Ellis: "That shows the sort of caring person that she is. She is a very capable person. When she sets her mind on a particular topic, she is very focused on it."

Ablett-Kerr shifted from Britain with her two young sons to Dunedin 23 years ago after her marriage broke up. She raised her boys on her own, with the help of a nanny, while establishing her career as a criminal barrister. Now grandmother to a 2-year-old and a 3-month-old, family is a high priority and she tries to see her grandchildren as much as she can. She has been married to her second husband for 18 years.

Appointed an Officer of the New Zealand Order of Merit in 2002, she supports the monarchy and is a traditionalist - backing the retention of wigs, gowns and court formality.

National only has six women MPs and none are on the front bench. The party is sprinkled with lawyers, but former lawyer and National MP Judith Collins says any party could do with more.

"She's one of the people who is being talked about. My impression of her is that she's a real battler and she's not afraid of anyone. I feel very positive about her."

National is refusing to release its party list until the end of May but has been searching for high-profile names to boost its list.

National's campaign manager Stephen Joyce would not comment on the selection process but said the ranking of list MPs would be done in late May, when the party announces its election year line-up.


Age: 58

Personal background: Born in Wales, divorced, now remarried. Two sons and two grandchildren.

Professional background: Studied law at the University of London. Moved to New Zealand 23 years ago and became the country's third female Queen's Counsel in 1995.

Notable cases: Gay Oakes, Vicky Calder, Peter Ellis.