Strictly Obiter Law Awards 2021

It was the worst of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of foolishness, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of darkness, it was the season of darkness, it was the winter of despair, it was the winter of despair.

2021 has been a rough year. Rough on New Zealand, rough on lawyers, rough on the Chief Justice’s stationery set. Even January – possibly the only nice part of the year – featured a Colin Craig judgment.

More normal times between February and August were filled with the soul-grinding despair of civil/commercial law. There were the cladding cases, all of which took on water. Teams of counsel – dozens strong – crowded the High Court daily list, all grist for the mill in cases that seemed to leave homeowners high and dry, and their homes low and damp. Proving that misery loves company law, the Court of Appeal released the Mainzeal judgment just before Easter. Then, contract interpretation in the Supreme Court again – a topic which gets revisited so often that the judicial method now mostly resembles drunk-texting an ex. The one bright spot: a rumour in May that Dame Sian Elias might be appointed Governor-General. But even that ended in shattered hopes and dreams for those of us keen to dust off our binders of Elias CJ jokes (Q: What is Elias CJ’s favourite dessert? A: A banana 4:1 split.)

On to August and the delta variant struck the one person in Devonport who is not a commercial law firm partner. The entire country reacquainted itself with VMR and had to receive an official reminder not to stand when a judge comes on the line lest you shove your crotch into the camera. Home renovations were reduced to trying to find a plain white background for VMR appearances. Plain white backgrounds in hearings were, incidentally, more difficult to find than the plain white foregrounds the profession has been rocking for decades.

Then, as the Auckland lockdown exceeded initial time estimates worse than a silk who likes the sound of his own voice, the Auckland-based virus went on circuit to Hamilton and Whangarei and soon the regions had more Covid cases than Mike Heron has independent inquiries. Quelle surprise as decreasing alert levels led to more cases – the alert level changes giving off a real “let’s give tailored discovery a go – we can probably get by on the key docs” vibe, only for the country to find itself halfway through a five week hearing with witnesses referring to dozens of crucial emails counsel has never seen before.

Outings were cancelled. The Supreme Court didn’t make it to Auckland. Presumably the bench turned up to the southern boundary checkpoint in the Court’s 2006 Toyota Previa and told the cop there that they had the power to overrule any court in the country, and were mistaken for all the other freemen on the land.

And if you think that’s grim, there’s worse happening in all the areas that I’m not allowed to write about!

And now the year is concluding with death stalking the countryside, death stalking the legal aid system, and the Strictly Obiter Law Awards returning for 2021. Things simply could not be worse.

Best impression of the Chief Justice

Screen Shot 2021-11-21 at 11.17.04 AM

Best headline about a mid-tier law firm

Mid tier

The Downs J Medal for Shortest Sentence in a Judgment

Campbell J in Mountfort v Cheam [2021] NZHC 1535 at [53]. Indeed.


The Christopher Bishop Legal Article of 2021

“Why practice ACC law?” by Molly McCarthy. What the judges said: “Enjoyed your piece in law talk.”

Best new trustee duty

The duty not to be “weird and inappropriate” from Macnamara v Macnamara [2021] NZHC 173 at [32]:


Community Spirit Award

Judge David Harvey


Most unusual aggravating feature of offending

Bleeding over things. From Brown v Police [2021] NZHC 2801 at [11].


The John Waite “I Ain’t Missing You At All” Award for We Had A Good Thing Going

The New Zealand Administrative Reports (second year in a row).

The Moist Medal For The Term That Gets Used A Lot But Which Makes Me Personally Uncomfortable

Low bono

Law student of the year

Grant from Banks v Farmer [2021] NZHC 1922:


If you are Grant, please DM me on Twitter to collect your prize.

Best Album/EP About District Court Reforms

Lorde – Te Ao Mārama

Illicit substance of the year

Wellington milk

Parliament’s Prize for Constitutional Orthodoxy and Basic Reading Comprehension

William Young J

The Snail in a Bottle of Ginger Beer Endowment for Case With The Least Likely Facts

Maharishi Foundation Inc v Benner [2021] NZHC 1930. The New Zealand Maharishis are fighting over a domain name and it’s also about trust law!

Screen Shot 2021-12-05 at 9.52.15 AM

The Friendly Fire Award

The Free Speech Union for their press release announcing that Prof Philip Joseph had joined their legal team.

Burn of Jack Hodder

Legal headline of the year

Highly commended: The return of Toogood J to the bench.


Winner: So much going on here.

Allegedly murdered man

Citation for bravery in complying with client instructions

Judge Callinicos’ lawyers who attended the meeting with the Chief Justice, presumably wearing brown trousers.

Best trust name

Family trust name

Worst cover of a legal publication

Law News for its calm, contemplative illustration of the idea of hate speech laws which are like book-burnings for reasons neither fully, nor partially, explained in the article?

Screen Shot 2021-12-05 at 10.23.12 AM

Best new product from a legal publisher

CJ's correspondence

First through seventh place at the Weetbix Kiwi Kids Tryathlon

7 RMac Partners

Best Absence of Self-Awareness from the Academy

Call for papers about these supposedly different topics for the Public Law Conference 2022.

Public Law Conference

Most disturbing treatment of law reports

I don’t care if it’s decorative – there are some things you Just Don’t Do.

Worst treatment of law reports

Best collaboration, worst press release

Buddle Findlay


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