Sir Muir Chilwell QC

17 June 2014
Sir Muir Chilwell QC, 1924 – 2014
Sir Muir Chilwell QC, 1924 – 2014

Sir Muir Chilwell died in Auckland on 10 June 2014, aged 90. An alumnus of the Auckland Law School, he attended Auckland University graduating LLB in 1949 and LLM with first class honours in 1950. He retained a connection with Auckland University by lecturing in conflict of laws, conveyancing and taxation law from 1953 to 1960.

Law was in Sir Muir’s family and he thought he was pre-programmed for the profession from childhood, given that his grandfather had served as a Magistrate in New Plymouth, and three uncles were lawyers.

He joined Haddow & Haddow in 1941 as a clerk and began studying at Auckland University College the same year. Study was part-time then. Students attended lectures in the early mornings and after work and on Saturdays, a practice that generally led to them receiving their first court experiences prior to qualifying. Sir Muir’s experience was in the Land Sales Court, where transactions involving land had to have court approval.

As with many of his time, Sir Muir’s legal profession was interrupted by the Second World War in which he served in the Army Corps and later the Fleet Air Arm and he was also serviced to work at Hellaby’s abattoir at Westfield, familiar to later generations of students looking for a holiday job.

Sir Muir was admitted to the bar in 1949 and asked to take silk in 1965 when he decided to turn towards more general litigation. At the time there were about half a dozen barristers sole in Auckland and he was one of only three silks when he, David Beattie QC and barrister Graeme Hubble broke with tradition and opened an office together on the High Street. He regarded those times as a Queen’s Counsel as among his best, further developing his proficiency as an advocate, which led to his appointment as a Queen’s Counsel for the Australian state of Victoria in 1970.

Sir Muir was also noted for his commercial law practice and specialised in civil procedure, property law, trusts and wills, taxation and intellectual property and was well known as a “plaintiff’s lawyer” in the field of personal injury law before the advent of Accident Compensation.

He was appointed a Judge of the Supreme Court (now High Court) of New Zealand in 1973 and began a career on the bench that was to end with his retirement on 24 May 1991 as Senior Puisne Judge.

On his retirement David Williams QC wrote: “In almost 20 years of judicial service, Sir Muir showed how the judicial function can be carried on at once with dignity, with commitment and with courage.”

Sir Edmund Thomas, who delivered a eulogy for Sir Muir, commented: "I am confident that I speak for the profession in saying that Sir Muir Chilwell QC was universally respected as a Judge, as a lawyer and as a man.  That respect ignited a deep affection which was exceptional.  No judge or lawyer has been held in higher affection by his colleagues, his contemporaries and the profession as a whole than Muir Chilwell.  The level of affection was truly unique."

Sir Muir is survived by his wife Lynette, two children and two grandchildren.