Stevens among legal elite

Anne Stevens QC is admitted to the inner bar along with fellow Queen's Counsels (from left) Colin...
Anne Stevens QC is admitted to the inner bar along with fellow Queen's Counsels (from left) Colin Withnall, Nigel Hampton, Judith Ablett-Kerr and Royden Somerville. PHOTO: PETER MCINTOSH
Dunedin lawyer Anne Stevens has stood in the High Court countless times, and spoken passionately for hours in defence of her clients.

Yesterday she said just a few sentences and confessed it was as nervous as she had ever been.

At a special sitting heavy on ceremony, amid a sea of wigs and gowns, she was admitted to the inner bar and officially became a Queen's Counsel.

Usually in the ornate wooden courtroom defence counsel get the last word, but not yesterday.

Mrs Stevens was uncharacteristically mute while Chief Justice Dame Sian Elias - who steps down from the position next month - paid tribute.

With more than 120 jury trials under her belt, defending some of the heaviest charges in criminal law, the University of Otago graduate had gained a reputation as a fearless advocate.

"More than 30 years service at the hard end of criminal practice ... is not for the faint-hearted,'' Dame Sian said.

Those who specialised in criminal law, she told the packed courtroom, often failed to get the respect of their counterparts practising in other areas.

The work was not always glamorous.

Defence lawyers regularly dealt with clients who were "distressed, damaged and distrustful''.

As if to illustrate Dame Sian's point, a disgruntled defendant being held in the cells below punctuated her comments with loud banging.

Mrs Stevens' efforts outside the courtroom were also listed.

Roles with local and national law societies, chairing committees and lecturing at university had all helped cement her role as a leader in the legal community.

Mrs Stevens, who takes pride in labelling herself "a troublemaker'', has never been shy to lend her voice to a cause she believes in.

She fought to save the Stuart St courthouse and recently stood on the picket line with court staff during their pay dispute with the Ministry of Justice.

It was not only her "natural talent'' that saw her elevated to the position among New Zealand's elite but something just as rare - "natural audacity,'' Dame Sian said.


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