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Six decades of defending

The courtroom was packed in Masterton on Friday. PHOTO/MARCUS ANSELM

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A packed Masterton District Court saw Wairarapa legal mainstay Jock Blathwayt finally get the final say on Friday.

The veteran criminal defence lawyer enjoyed a special sitting of the court to mark his retirement after 61 years in the profession.

Friends, family colleagues and courtoom adversaries paid tribute to a man described as “The Rumpole of Masterton Court” and “our leader and comforting constant” by judge Jenny Binns.

Generations of New Zealand legal minds turned up to say farewell, as did Labour list MP Kieran McAnulty, and Ohariu MP Greg O’Connor.

The Carterton lawyer is part of a legal dynasty which dates back to 1842, and the very birth of the New Zealand legal system.

He has practised in Wairarapa since signing up with Bell Gully in 1967, having started his own legal career as a trainee in 1959.

Blathwayt, now in his 80th year, said goodbye to the court, described as his second home by presiding judge Bruce Davidson.

Defence colleague Mike Antunovic told the court of their close working relationship which stemmed back to the 1980s and took in cases such as Phillip Smith’s 1996 trial, the trial of Stephen Williams over the murder of Coral Burrows, and the death of Lou Tawhai in 1992.

Antunovic said he remembered the first time they met.

“I remember a happy man, a real gentleman, a quiet man who went about his business in a strong way.”

The noted Wellington lawyer also told of infamous “debriefing sessions” they had shared in 35 years as co-counsel.

“How fortunate I have been to have had you by my side for so many years.”

Crown solicitor Grant Burston said he praised Blathwayt’s consistency and resilience. Burston said when his team saw Blathwayt’s name on the papers, “they would expect a battle in court”.

“But out of the courtoom, without exception, he was a gentleman, with a sense of humour I would call impish, and in conversation, he was always interested and interesting.”

“He really is our learned friend.”

Police prosecutor Tom Andrews said he was still in nappies when his frequent courtroom opponent started work in Masterton.

He praised his determination and diligence.

“Of all the defence lawyers we called, Jock was the one who would always answer the calls in the middle of the night. He was the one who would get up at 3am to give a client advice.”

Close friend and court mainstay Nelda Day, colleague Steve Taylor, judges Binns and Barbara Morris, and Keith McClure of WCM Legal also paid tribute.

For once, Davidson gave the defence lawyer the last word in court.

“What has been said has been overwhelming,” Blathwayt said. “Anything nice that has been said I wholeheartedly endorse.

“My heart swells with pride. I can hardly cope with this.”

With children in the profession and his grandson in his third year of legal training, the Blathwayt family will continue to be linked to the law for generations to come.


  1. Congratulations on your retirement Jock. You will wonder how you found time to work !! Enjoy, and if you are minded to visit the Sunshine Coast in Australia – call in for a medicinal scotch ?

  2. I can only agree with and endorse the words said about jock, I was the police prosecutor in Masterton for 24 years so spent most of my adult life arguing points of law, the admissibility of evidence, the reliability of witnesses and procedural issues on a daily basis with him. Lots of those arguments were heated and lengthy but once the working day was over we would put it all behind us and have a great laugh!! Jock was a foreboding adversary as he knew the law inside out but was a kind and thoughtful adversary that always had his clients interest at the forefront. It will be impossible to fill the void he leaves behind, a true scholar and gentleman!!!

  3. Jock – best wishes to you in retirement after such a long and distinguished legal career. Given your expertise, experience and wonderful sense of humour I would like to place an order for your upcoming best selling book Jock! Bob Pringle (Geraldine – ex Mstn)

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