Prominent QC’s early knighthood

by Hannah Norton13 Apr 2015
Terminal cancer means one of New Zealand’s most prominent criminal lawyers has been knighted a month early.

Peter Williams QC was made a Knight Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit for services to the law at a special private ceremony at his Auckland home on Saturday.

Hailed as a lifelong champion for prisoners’ rights, Williams has battled cancer for the past eight years.

In recent weeks, his health began to decline rapidly, prompting friends to petition the Government to bring his investiture forward.

Auckland barrister and secretary for the New Zealand Criminal Bar Association Roger Chambers spoke fondly of Williams, who he has known since the mid-to-late 1960s.

“We had done, in those early days, some trials together. He was always hugely focused on the task at hand. He would be one of the most well-prepared lawyers that I – in nearly 50 years of practice – have come across,” Chambers told NZLawyer.

“He was very entertaining in many respects, and I might say that the after-match function we had after the trials was always great fun, particularly if Mike Bungay (QC) was also present.”

Chambers travelled with Williams to what was the Supreme Court in Wellington.

“I was never comfortable as a passenger in his vehicle – he tended to drive far too fast, particularly when he had a Jaguar, and I think I ended up in a ditch with him one night,” he laughed.

“But a consummate lawyer. Very, very concerned that he represented his clients – of which there were many and varied – to the best of his ability.”

Williams’ knighthood ceremony was attended by around 60 friends and family.

Public investitures are to be held on May 6, and there are concerns Williams will not live that long.

He was knighted by Governor-General Sir Jerry Mateparae.

His legal career spanned 60 years and included involvement in more than 100 murder trials, as well as representation in high profile cases such as that of Arthur Allen Thomas and Mr Asia Terry Clark.

The former head of the Howard League for Penal Reform was appointed Queens Counsel in 1987.

He is also an author, penning novels including last year’s bestseller The Dwarf Who Moved.