Justice Muir, Matthew Alexander
2014 Judge Survey Score (not listed)
|Postion & Titles:||Queens Counsel|
|Judge of:||High Court, since 2016||Christchurch|
|Specializations and Professional Interests:||Homosexual rights, litigation|
|Professional Comments:||In an interview with Gay Express upon his appointment, Justice Muir said he hoped to bring “Civility, humanity and good judgment… and also sensitivity to difference and to minority interests which, were it not for the fact that I am part of such a minority myself, I may not have.”|
|Background / Education:||Justice Muir graduated with an LLB (Hons) from Auckland University in 1981 and became a staff solicitor with Holmden Horrocks & Co in Auckland. In 1984 he took leave from Holmden Horrocks for postgraduate studies at the University of Virginia, graduating with an LLM.
In 1985 Justice Muir joined the partnership of Holmden Horrocks, working in civil litigation. He left that firm in 1988 to join the partnership of Buddle Findlay, based in their Auckland office and specialising in commercial and banking litigation.
Matthew Muir was instrumental in passage of the Homosexual Reform Bill in 1986.
Justice Muir was appointed Queen’s Counsel in 2013
|Degrees:||LLB (Hons) from Auckland University, 1981|
|Admitted to the Bar:||1981|
|Married: partner||James Peters||Children:||none|
|Interesting Relationships and Coincidences:||Has been an active proponent of homosexual rights most of his adult life. Interviews of Matthew Muir below.|
|Miscellaneous:||Partner James operates James Peters Designs|
Posted in: Hall of Fame
By High Court Justice Matthew Muir – 11th December 2014
|Justice Muir is sworn in by Chief Justice Sian Elias (GayNZ.com photo)|
My forebears arrived in New Zealand in October 1842 on the first free passage emigrant ship from Scotland, the Duchess of Argyle. That was my family waka.
They were poor farmers from the Scottish lowlands whose only hope for a better life was to set forth with 300 others and basic rations on a 12,000 mile journey which 21 of their number did not survive. They landed at Mechanics Bay, settled in South Auckland and became farmers. Within 30 years they had prospered. I am the 5th generation of those hardy souls and the first not to farm.
I grew up in Te Kohanga, a small settlement on the banks of the Waikato River between Tuakau and Port Waikato. That is my home. My parents were dry stock farmers there.
My Danish grandmother, a force of nature revisited in my much-loved sister Virginia, owned the adjoining farm. It was the ultimately romantic childhood with orchards, expansive gardens (my grandmother had over 2 acres) swimming holes, streams full of fresh water Kura, clothesbaskets full of mushrooms in the autumn, long hot summers chasing the hay baler, all with the steady guidance of my parents and the unqualified love of my grandmother. It set me up for life. It provided me with my compass. It defines most of the things which, outside my career, I am most passionate about – in particular my love of environment and of gardens.
GOODBYE TE KOHANGA, HELLO AUCKLAND!
But my parents were perceptive. At a relatively early age they identified in me a little greater aptitude for the 3 Rs than for sheep farming’s 3 Ds (dagging, docking and drenching) and decided that, to give me the best future, a move to Auckland was required.
If truth be told my desire to star in every school play and musical was probably something of a give-away in terms of my farming potential but it was a major sacrifice for them nonetheless. My only sadness is that they are no longer here to see the fruits of that sacrifice and the fact that, although my life did not track entirely in accordance with their expectations and, in particular, the expectations of their faith, it hasn’t perhaps all been a disappointment either.
I arrived at Auckland University in February 1976 having just turned 16 but keen to get on with it. I had had 4 years at Auckland Grammar. I was neither a rugby nor cricket player but immersed myself in its active and well-resourced drama department and made lifelong friends
My time at Auckland Law School was marked by many of the greats – Jack Northey in Administrative Law, Bernard Brown, Jock Brookfield, George Hinde, Don McMorland, I emerged at the end of 1979 inspired that the decision to take law, made as a 6-year old watching Perry Mason with my grandmother on her black and white TV was undoubtedly the right one.
It was at that stage that I met one of my two great professional mentors – the Hon John Priestley QC who is a recently retired Judge of this Court. As a rather fresh-faced 20 year old, I arrived at Holmden Horrocks in February 1980 where John was the partner responsible for employing new graduates.
The work was diverse and stimulating and John was a patient and kind teacher. We went all over the country, often in the rather grand English motor car which he had acquired from his late father.
There were bizarre cases like the one involving 6 lawyers all being remunerated out of the estate arguing over the meaning of a handwritten will, prepared by a testator who wanted to save the then typical $40 fee for a solicitor to prepare one. It was my first introduction to the ironies of the law.
|Justice Muir looks on as he is welcomed to the High Court by gay Attorney General Chris Finlayson (GayNZ.com photo)|
There was the Taupo election petition of 1981 with John and I led by the late Paul Temm QC, another former judge of this Court and whose cross-examination of various hapless and in some cases fraudulent voters eclipsed even my childhood TV hero Mr Mason. And throughout it all there was John’s very individual brand of humour and ready laugh to punctuate the inevitable tensions of a busy litigation practice.
ADMISSION TO THE BAR(S)
1981 saw admission to the bar and the resultant pay increase, from $84 net per week to $124, that every young graduate counted down the days to. It also meant that you were ready to take on the mantle of the AA Solicitor, representing sometimes fifteen or more members of the Automobile Association per day on their minor traffic infractions.
It was the best experience any young litigator could ask for. Within a year literally hundreds of hours of Court experience had accrued. It built confidence and it built skills. I lament the fact, talking to young lawyers today, that many hardly ever get to see a Courtroom prior to partnership.n.
By the beginning of 1983 my thoughts had turned to post-graduate work and here again John Priestley’s influence was strongly felt. He encouraged me to apply to the University of Virginia where he had completed his own doctorate.
Quite how this was all going to be funded was something of an unanswered question until, unbeknown to the partners of Holmden Horrocks, I secured a cocktail bar job which, with tips, paid somewhat more than my legal salary.
It was at the height of the Fluffy Duck and the Brandy Alexander. They were produced in their hundreds until I was sprung one evening by one of the partners who took a somewhat dim view of moonlighting on the part of their then reasonably senior staff solicitor. I can assure you that I have no similar plans at this stage of my career.
On my return from the US I re-joined Holmden Horrocks, becoming a partner in 1985 and from there moved to Buddle Findlay in 1988 where the work was challenging, the opportunities for appearances numerous… it had a large banking practice which kept the litigators very busy after the ’87 stock market crash. Then in 1995 it was to the independent bar for twenty years.
A new and highly influential figure came increasingly into my life, the late Richard Craddock QC. He was the quintessential fearless and effective advocate but at the same time a model of civility and urbanity.
THE GREAT OUTDOORS
However, beyond mentor, he was also a great friend introducing me to a kaleidoscope of experiences in my 30s and 40s. With his encouragement I learnt to fly in a small training aircraft which he co-owned. Richard and his wife and I tramped and climbed together, including summiting Aoraki/Mt Cook when Richard was well into his 60s. We fly fished, we went on 4 wheel drive adventures, we blasted through Central Otago in his classic XK150 drop-head Jag. We drank single malt late into the night.
LEGISLATION AND LOVE
|Moments after the swearing in, Justice Muir (right) and partner James Peters (GayNZ.com photo)|
There is however one person more than any other who I need to thank and acknowledge – my partner of 29 years, James Peters.
James, Jimmy to his siblings and old friends, and I met in the context of the great homosexual decriminalisation debate of 1985/1986. He was part of a small group including Don McMorland, retired barrister Alan Ivory, Bruce Kilmister, John Hughes and Peter Wall who were tasked with shepherding that controversial legislation through what was a minefield of prejudice, hostility and ignorance. David Lange once described it as one of the most challenging experiences in his political career. There were radicalised young elements to be managed, there was a constant stream of American evangelicals whose intolerance had to be countered. It was a place for cool heads playing the long game as public opinion polls gradually turned and with them the necessary conscience votes in the House. The legislation ultimately passed in 1986 by the slimmest of majorities.
It was my great good fortune that a particular legal issue emerged out of the work James was doing on the Bill. He was referred to me and I acted for the young man who James was endeavouring to assist.
With his rich background in literature, the visual arts and design James invited me into what Robert Dessaix calls in his latest book an “enchanted realm” of rapidly expanding horizons. He was and is wise, charismatic, kind and humane. He is effectively the co-author of my life. I would never have contemplated this role without his unqualified love and support and it is deservedly reciprocated. My greatest hope in this appointment is that I can do him proud.
In the current legislative environment, including the anti-discrimination amendments which followed decriminalisation and now Marriage Equality it is easy to forget that, barely 35 years ago when I was starting off my legal career, the landscape was very different. As a young graduate I had high levels of anxiety about how I would ever reconcile who I was with my desire to excel in my chosen profession. There were health problems as I grappled with the issue.
But my anxieties were, in fact, ill-founded. With views initially well ahead of public opinion, and reflecting the premium on human dignity the great leaders of our profession have always stood for, I have never had anything but support from my colleagues. I thank them for it. I hope that I can now in part repay the confidence they have expressed in me.
GAY STAR NEWS
One of the lawyers behind the campaign to legalize homosexuality in New Zealand in 1986 has seen his career come full circle as he was just appointed to sit on the bench of the High Court of New Zealand.
Auckland lawyer Matthew Muir was one of a group of lawyers who advised the authors of the Homosexual Law Reform Bill which legalized sex between men in New Zealand in 1986 after decades of activism by the LGBTI community.
And yesterday he was sworn in as the first openly gay man to sit on New Zealand’s High Court in the presence of his partner of 29 years, James Peters, and New Zealand’s openly gay Attorney General Chris Finlayson.
New Zealand High Court Chief Justice Sian Elias swore in Muir, saying, ‘Your appointment increases the diversity of High Court Justice,’ according to GayNZ.com.
‘To those of us who have lived through momentous social change it can be too easy to forget how bad things were.
‘We have seen a social revolution in our lifetime … The barriers are not yet all down but we have come a long way.’
In accepting his new role, Muir spoke of the ‘prejudice and hostility’ that had arisen in response to LGBTI New Zealanders began seeking their equal rights, ‘But we kept cool heads and played the long game,’ he said.
Muir also paid tribute to his partner James Peters, who he met during the campaign to decriminalize homosexuality, calling him, ‘effectively the co-author of my life,’ and ‘wise, kind and humane.’
‘I hope I can do him proud,’ he said.
n Friday 5 December experienced barrister Matthew Muir became NZ’s first ever openly gay High Court Justice. In the first of a two-part interview Oliver Hall talks to Muir about the significance of his history making appointment.
For how long has being a High Court Judge been a goal of yours?
For about five years. I believe I reached a point in my career typical of many as they enter their 50s whereby you have a desire both to give something back and to take on a new challenge.
What do you hope to bring to the role?
Civility, humanity and good judgment. As a gay man I would hope also to bring a sensitivity to difference and to minority interests which, were it not for the fact that I am part of such a minority myself, I may not have. Tim Cook the gay CEO of Apple has recently spoken about the empathy, which he considers his sexuality brings to his life and his work and how enriched he is therefore by it. I have exactly the same view of my own.
Was there ever a time you thought your sexuality would prohibit you from becoming a High Court Judge?
I think if you had asked me in my 20s whether that was ever a realistically obtainable objective in my lifetime I would have said no, but the pace of change has been remarkable. I think it a great testimony to my profession and to the country as a whole that it has embraced difference with the speed it has.
So you feel your appointment was a significant moment for the GLBT community?
Yes, I think it is yet another glass ceiling shattered. The really hard work was done by those ahead of me, for example, Bruce Kilmister, Alan Ivory, Don McMorland, Peter Wall, John Hughes and my partner James Peters but then you get the odd ‘break through’ moment and I think this is one of them. I also think it is a measure of how far we have come that my appointment is not seen as ‘doing something’ for gays, but recognition that it is completely acceptable to be a Judge and be openly gay – something that would not have been conceivable earlier in my life-time.
When you were sworn in, Chief Justice Elias spoke about your, ‘significant role in bringing about change by advocacy in the 1980s’ – for our readers unaware of this – could you please tell us a bit about what you achieved?
The 1980s was undoubtedly the watershed decade for the New Zealand gay community. At the commencement of it consensual male homosexual activity was a criminal offence potentially punishable by lengthy imprisonment. By the end of it we were well on our way to taking our place as valued and contributing members of society. My partner James was at the forefront of those changes as part of the Gay Taskforce which worked alongside the politicians and particularly Fran Wilde and David Lange to effect that change. As his partner there was never a shortage of work to do, whether obtaining financial and moral support from members of the legal profession (some of the leaders of which today were right there for us at the time), lobbying politicians (the vote hung so closely in the balance that we had to be relentless, particularly with the “swing” votes like National MPs George Gair and Doug Graham) or planning and executing another march down Queen Street. It was an exciting, motivating time with a great sense of mission.