[Hot List Interview] with Andrew Butler, Russell McVeagh

by NZ Lawyer07 Apr 2014
The NZ Lawyer print magazine’s Hot List features some of the country’s top legal professionals – and we’ll be talking to each one of them over the coming weeks. Below, we catch up with Russell McVeagh partner and litigation and public law specialist, Andrew Butler, to find out what he’s focusing on right now.
Butler says there are a number of trends developing in his particular practice area, including the fact that representative claims litigation “appears to have arrived”.

“The Feltex IPO class action started three weeks ago, a number of major banks are facing class action over their bank fees and threats of two class actions against insurers relating to the Canterbury earthquake have been made.  Even if the number of proceedings underway in New Zealand is small by comparison to overseas jurisdictions, New Zealand corporates are now much more aware of the risks to their business that class actions pose,” says Butler. 

The second important trend, he says, is regulatory enforcement – both criminal and civil.

“For some time, light-handed regulation meant infrequent, last-resort regulator litigation.  The regulators have become more aggressive and are keen to remind regulatees that they are being supervised.”

Finally, he says, there’s been an increasing focus on rights-based litigation, specifically in the public law space – something which has been taking place overseas for some time.

“This form of litigation allows for a more granular examination of the reasonableness and proportionality of measures taken by state agencies.”

When he’s not busy with paid work, Butler is also heavily involved in pro bono activities, acting as deputy chair of the Russell McVeagh pro bono committee.

“Our pro bono commitment is substantial; approximately $700,000-$1,000,000 per annum in billable fee equivalent.  The work varies from support for the commercial and governance activities of a substantial number of charities, to test case litigation and to support for the Community Law Centres,” says Butler.

He says an example of test case litigation underway at the moment includes a trial that Butler and his Wellington litigation partner, Adrian Olney, are taking on behalf of the partner and daughter of a man who committed suicide in the Police cells in Rotorua a number of years ago. 

“The facts are tragic and will require the Court to examine the meaning and application of the right to life guaranteed in the New Zealand Bill of Rights.  Apart from these sorts of activities, the firm supports the activities of the Law Society and the Law Society branches in Wellington and Auckland.”

Butler further describes himself as a “middling” golfer with a handicap of 12.

“I’ve played since I was knee-high — my Mum was an international, so I didn't have much choice — and enjoy the fact that it allows me to switch off from anything else going on around me.  I love the craic (fun) you can have with people on the course.”

Butler’s key cases

Butler’s been involved in a number of high profile commercial and public law cases: highlights include the BNZ conduit tax avoidance case; input methodologies appeals for Vector; acting for Allan and Jean Hubbard; acting for IHC in a ground-breaking age discrimination claim against the Ministry of Health; and for the Human Rights Commission in the family caregivers case.  He also appeared for the Crown on the Ahmed Zaoui litigation and on the challenge to the Special Education 2000 reforms.  Butler is currently acting for Kiwibank on the bank fees class action.