The Dunedin Club

40th Anniversary of the Independent Bar in Dunedin and the Retirement of Colin Withnall QC

Jonathan Eaton QC made the following welcoming remarks at a dinner to mark the 40th Anniversary of the independent bar in Dunedin and the retirement of Colin Withnall QC.

Your honours, Branch President Jo Hambleton, our very special guest Colin Withnall QC, Mrs Withnall, Paul and Jess, colleagues, it gives me very great pleasure, to welcome you all to celebrate both a significant milestone in the history of the independent bar here in Dunedin and the retirement of one of our most senior and respected colleagues Colin Withnall QC.

I welcome you on behalf of the New Zealand Bar Association in my role as South Island Vice-President.  Practising just up the road and knowing many of you through cases, the NZBA or the NZLS, I do feel a strong affiliation to the Dunedin bar.  I am grateful to Dean Tobin for the invitation to welcome you all.

The relationship of the Dunedin independent bar with the New Zealand Bar Association is longstanding and is constitutionally recognised in that our rules require the council to include a representative from Otago/Southland.  This province has been proudly and strongly represented on council since the establishment of the association in1988:

Royden Somerville QC (inaugural council), Len Andersen, Adrian More, Judith Ablett-Kerr QC, Trevor Shiels QC, Dean Tobin. Jono Ross from Invercargill is your new representative on council.

Forty years ago, as recorded in 'Lawfully Occupied', an ODLS memoir authored by M J Cullen, the independent bar in Dunedin was non-existent. By 2005 the sequel 'Occupied Lawfully' edited by Jim Sullivan tells us, in a chapter penned by Royden Somerville QC, there were 39 lawyers holding practising certificates as barristers’ sole in Otago with an additional 3 in Queenstown.  In 2019 there are 46 barristers in Dunedin, 3 in Queenstown and 7 in Invercargill.  Slow but steady growth. This bar has gone from strength to strength.

And importantly, and as evidenced this evening, it has always worked collaboratively with the Law Society.

The close association of the independent bar with the Law Society is reflected in the number of past Presidents of the Otago branch appointed from the independent bar.  Powerful names of the Dunedin legal profession – David More, Colin Withnall QC, James Large, Trevor Shiels QC, Adrian More, Anne Stevens QC , Len Anderson and Royden Sommerville QC. Judith Ablett-Kerr QC was the NZLS representative on the Chief Justices’ Criminal Practice Committee for 20 years. Many others have made invaluable contributions to the law society.

So it is fitting that this special celebration should be co-hosted by the NZBA and the Otago branch of the law society.

If I were to summarise both my personal experiences and the wider reputation of the independent bar in Dunedin (both of which happen to coincide) in three words those words would be quality, collegiality and community. 

The bar here is small, as it is in Christchurch but the quality of the people and the advocacy is of the very highest standard.  Judges from all over NZ enjoy sitting here and speak of the quality of the advocacy. Quality runs deep but is formally recognised in the number of Dunedin silks appointed since 1907:

Hosking, Solomon, Fraser, McGregor, Hanlin, Callan, Neil, Withnall, Ablett-Kerr, Somerville, Shiels, Chan, and Stevens.

One of the great hallmarks of our profession and one which we perhaps struggle to retain at a national level is collegiality and that’s where the profession in this city thrives.  A hallmark of my regular forays to this registry is the warmth and kindness of the bar, It is tangible. Your sense of collegiality is reflected in such a wonderful turn out this evening both as a mark of respect for our profession generally and of course for one of the very senior statesmen, Mr Colin Withnall QC.

The third trait is community.  The contribution the independent bar, indeed the broader legal profession, in Dunedin makes to its community is a hallmark of being a a lawyer in Dunedin. It is only in Dunedin that when the Court of Appeal sits the law school are invited to attend and engage in a pre-hearing discussion with the judges and counsel. Town and gown. Recognition from on high of a special community relationship.

The New Zealand Bar Association is delighted to be involved in this splendid occasion.  I congratulate the independent bar on this 40th anniversary.  I congratulate you Colin on your retirement after such an extraordinary career and I thank you all for your contribution to ensure the strength of the independent bar in New Zealand.

Welcome and have a wonderful evening.

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