NZs new silks: Prominent defence lawyers among those honoured as Queens Counsel

Prominent defence lawyers are among 10 new silks appointed by the Attorney-General.

David Parker announced the new Queen’s Counsel today, which include well-known Auckland criminal barristers Ron Mansfield and Fletcher Pilditch.

Christchurch’s Kerryn Beaton, who acted as counsel assisting the Royal Commission of Inquiry into the Pike River Coal Mine Disaster, was the sole South Island-based lawyer appointed.

The former Crown prosecutor’s career has also included being appointed by the United Nations to provide assistance to the Khmer Rouge Trials in Cambodia. Since 2019 she has worked as senior counsel assisting the Royal Commission of Inquiry into Abuse in Care and also serves on Te Kāhui Tātari Ture/Criminal Cases Review Commission’s interim panel of specialist advisers.

In Wellington, intellectual property litigation specialist Greg Arthur, who represented the National Party in its copyright case with US rapper Eminem, and commercial lawyers Victoria Heine and Michael Colson, who acted for the liquidators ofthe Ross Asset Management group, were announced as silks.

Specialist family law barristers Lynda Kearns, one of six New Zealand members of the International Academy of Family Lawyers, and Stephen McCarthy, civil and media litigator Davey Salmon and commercial lawyer Laura O’Gorman were also honoured from Auckland.

“The criteria for appointment recognise that excellence and leadership in the profession should be viewed through a wider, community lens,” Parker said.

“I am pleased to see that the profession continues to make a good contribution to access to justice.”

Mansfield, a former prosecutor and civil litigator, is known in the legal fraternity as being unafraid to challenge the status quo and questioned the orders of the Chief District Court Judge during strikes by Ministry of Justice staff in 2018.

He has been involved in some of New Zealand’s highest-profile cases in recent years, including the Kim Dotcom extradition proceedings, Grace Millane murder trial and Comancheros case.

Mansfield also acted for Stephen Borlase in what became New Zealand’s largest ever bribery prosecution, and represented former Assistant Chief of Navy and top military attache to the United States Alfred Keating in the Washington DC embassy’s hidden camera scandal.

He is currently defending former MP Jami-Lee Ross in the National Party donations case and was a founding committee member of the newly formed Defence Lawyers Association.

Pilditch has also been involved in some of the country’s biggest trials and worked as a Crown prosecutor in Rotorua from 1998 to 2001 before moving to Meredith Connell in Auckland. During this time he was admitted to the Pitcairn Island Supreme Court and conducted trials off and on the island between 2003 and 2005.

He was appointed Crown Solicitor for Rotorua in 2006 before in 2014 moving to the independent bar and was a founding member of Richmond Chambers in Auckland, where he specialises in criminal, regulatory and public law.

Media reports earlier this week indicated Parker would implement a gender quota with today’s announcement, however, only four of the 10 silks appointed were women.

The Attorney-General’s office told the Herald: “There is no gender or other quota approach taken.

“Those involved in the appointment process are well aware of the need to ensure that Queen’s Counsel appointments appropriately reflect diversity in the legal profession, and in New Zealand more generally.”

The Queen’s Counsel appointment process begins with a public call for applications.

Consultation on these applications is carried out with the New Zealand Law Society and the New Zealand Bar Association.

Crown Law administers the appointment of new silks – known by the name due to the gowns they wear – on behalf of the Attorney-General before decisions on appointment are taken by the Attorney-General, with the concurrence of the Chief Justice.

The Attorney-General also consults with the judiciary on candidates and then recommends appointment of candidates to the Governor-General. Recommendations are made in accordance with an appointment criteria for candidates.

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