Victoria University Of Wellington Notable Alumni

Our Law School is proud of its tradition of producing outstanding alumni.

These include the country’s only Law Lord, its only Judge of the International Court of Justice, a Prime Minister and many of New Zealand’s top judges. Many current judges are distinguished alumni of our Law School.

Alumni also contribute at all levels of the legal profession, the public service, politics and the judiciary.

We encourage alumni to continue their association with the Faculty through our programme of events, our newsletter and our annual year in review, V.alum.

Keep your contact details up to date in the University’s alumni database. Your information will be used for University-related statistical purposes and to contact you about relevant University matters, events etc.


The signature event for our law alumni is the annual Robin Cooke lecture which is held in the first two weeks of December.

All alumni are invited and the lecture is followed by the Faculty’s Christmas Drinks Party.

Throughout the year, the Faculty has a programme of public lectures and seminars, some of which are organised through its research centres, the New Zealand Centre of International and Economic Law and the New Zealand Centre for Public Law.

To receive event invitations via email please sign up to our event invitation list.

Notable alumni and faculty

Victoria’s Law Alumni and former staff

Victoria’s Faculty of Law is proud of its alumni and former staff.

Law has been taught and researched at Victoria for more than 100 years and in that time has produced scholars of international standing, a Prime Minister and many of this country’s most senior judges.

Alumni also contribute at all levels of the legal profession, the public service, business and the wider community.

Public office

Governor General

  • Sir Michael Hardie-Boys

Prime Minister

  • Sir Geoffrey Palmer

Chief Justices

  • Sir Thomas Eichelbaum (1989 – 1999)
  • Sir Richard Wild (1966 – 1978)
  • Sir Humphrey O’Leary (1946 – 1953)
  • Sir Charles Skerrett (1926 – 1929)


  • Chris Finlayson – incumbent
  • Geoffrey Palmer (1984 -1989)
  • Dan Riddiford (1971 – 1972)
  • Jack Marshall, 2nd time (1969 – 1971)
  • Jack Marshall, 1st time (1954 – 1957)
  • Rex Mason (1935 – 1949)


  • Dr David Collins QC (2006 – 2012)
  • Terence Arnold QC (2000 – 2006)
  • John McGrath QC (1989 – 2000)
  • Paul Neazor QC
  • Richard Savage QC
  • John White QC
  • Richard Wild QC (1957 – 1966)

Distinguished Alumni

Sir John Salmond

John Salmond was appointed a Professor of Law at Victoria in 1906.

When he left it was to the newly created position of Counsel to the Law Drafting Office, where he eventually became Solicitor General. He had a key role in drafting almost all of the legislation of the later part of the Liberal Government at an important stage of New Zealand’s life – the creation of the welfare state. His contribution is no less than providing the intellectual framework for the rule of law in modern New Zealand. “Salmond on Torts” remains a key textbook for legal study in Commonwealth countries.

During his term of this office he was honoured with a knighthood in 1918 and two years later was further honoured by elevation to the Bench of the Supreme Court.

Whilst Salmond’s reputation now rests primarily on his status as a jurist, his significance in New Zealand life was more extensive during his lifetime. As a teacher of law at Victoria University College he was very highly regarded by students and the profession alike for his lucid and interesting expositions of the complexities of the law, and for his human kindness and interest.

Lord Cooke

Robin Brunskill Cooke, described by some as New Zealand’s greatest jurist and, notably, a member of the British House of Lords, was a man whose family was steeped in the law.

Robin Cooke was himself the son of a judge and a grandson of a Crown Solicitor in Palmerston North. As a judge he made several significant rulings, stating on various occasions, for example, that there were limits to parliamentary sovereignty.

He was also prepared to invoke fundamental principles of justice to strike down Government actions.

Born in Wellington and educated at Wanganui Collegiate School, Victoria University in Wellington and at Cambridge University, England, Lord Cooke was admitted to the New Zealand bar in 1950. He was admitted to the English bar in 1954.

Made a Queen’s Counsel in 1964, he became a judge of the Supreme Court in 1972. On his retirement from the Court of Appeal in 1996 he was granted a British life peerage.

Sir Kenneth Keith

Sir Kenneth Keith is the first New Zealand judge the United Nations has elected on the International Court of Justice.

Born in Auckland, Sir Kenneth’s career has included diplomacy, advocacy and academic work as an international law lecturer, President of the Law Commission and member of statutory and government panels, including the Royal Commission which created the MMP electoral system.

Appointed to the Court of Appeal in 1996, he was also a judge in Fiji, Samoa, the Cook Islands, Niue and on the New Zealand Supreme Court, and was a member of the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council.

Sir Kenneth is perhaps best remembered for arguing at the ICJ against French nuclear testing in the Pacific, as part of the New Zealand and Australian teams which won an injunction against “La Bombe”.

Sir George Laking

Sir George Laking’s career illustrates the diversity with which a law degree can be used.

Sir George Laking was a distinguished diplomat and public servant with an outstanding record of service to New Zealand. After two decades of service with the Customs Department and then the Prime Minister’s and External Affairs Departments, George Laking was posted to the New Zealand Embassy in Washington in 1949, where he served for seven years.

Distinguished Alumni Award – Law

The university itself has an annual “Distinguished Alumni Award” in which the Law School is frequently represented.

  • 2013 – Claudia Batten, Conrad Smith, Georgina te Heuheu
  • 2011 – Sir Thomas Gault
  • 2009 – Peter Boshier
  • 2007 – Robin Congreve
  • 2006 – John Allen, David Gascoigne, Joseph Williams

If you would like to suggest an alumnus or alumna for inclusion, please contact the Faculty’s Communication adviser.