Shirley Smith (lawyer)

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Shirley Hilda Stanley Smith
Born(1916-10-10)10 October 1916
Died29 December 2007(2007-12-29) (aged 91)
Years active1957–1994
SpouseBill Sutch

Shirley Hilda Stanley Smith (10 October 1916 – 29 December 2007) was a lawyer from New Zealand.


Smith was born in 1916 in Wellington, New Zealand,[1][2] and was the daughter of barrister and judge Sir David Smith.[3] She attended Queen Margaret College and Nga Tawa Diocesan School.[1]

On 2 June 1944, Smith married William Ball Sutch. Together they had one daughter.[4]


Smith's interest in the law began through conversations with her father, David Smith, although he did not initially approve of her pursuing a legal career. Instead, she studied Classics at the University of Oxford and then returned to New Zealand to teach. After attending a lecture in New York on the Commission on the Status of Women, she was inspired to train as a lawyer. After returning to New Zealand in 1951, she enrolled in Victoria University of Wellington's Faculty of Law.[3][5]

While undertaking her legal training, Smith was one of around five women in the law school and she challenged the policies of the New Zealand Law Society and Wellington District Law Society that disallowed women from attending their dinners.[3][5]

After graduating in 1957, Smith became the 41st woman to be admitted as a barrister and solicitor of the High Court of New Zealand. She first worked as a law clerk at Wellington firm before deciding to enter academia.[3]

In 1957, Smith joined the Victoria University of Wellington and became the first woman in New Zealand to lecture in law and be a full member of a law faculty.[6] She lectured for two years and taught constitutional Law and Roman law. During this time she was the only female faculty member. She was also the first editor of the Victoria University of Wellington Law Review.[3][5]

Smith left the university to practice general law as a sole practitioner. Between 1961–1994 she worked in Wellington as a barrister and solicitor. Although her cases were varied she became known for her work in family law and criminal law. She was drawn to cases of relating to social justice and did pro bono work for a number of organisations, including the Cook Island Society of New Zealand (Wellington) and the Society for Research on Women. She also represented a number of gang members in criminal cases, including members of the Porirua chapter of the Mongrel Mob and Wellington chapter of the Black Power Gang.[3][1]

In the early 1990s, Smith stopped practising law. In 1995 she was made an honorary life member of the Wellington District Law Society.[3]

Shirley Smith Address[edit]

In honour of Shirley Smith, the Women in Law Committee of the New Zealand Law Society's Wellington branch began the annual Shirley Smith Address. The event began in 2008 and occurs annually. Previous speakers have included:[7]

Year Speaker Address title
2008 Margaret Wilson Inaugural Address
2009 Dame Sian Elias Blameless Babes
2010 Professor Nicola Lacey The Prisoners' Dilemma and Political Systems: The Impact of Proportional Representation on Criminal Justice in New Zealand
2011 Sir Kenneth Keith Human Rights and National Security in International Law and National Law
2012 Professor Hilary Charlesworth Keeping Women in their Place – Women's rights and the question of ‘culture' in international law
2013 Justice Teresa Doherty Sexual violence and the role of the International Courts
2014 Dame Susan Glazebrook Protecting the Vulnerable in the 21st Century: An International Perspective
2015 Dame Silvia Cartwright Gender-based violence – the price is not right
2016 Ngaire Naffine Criminal Law and the Problem of Men, or Manliness, Male Right and Criminal law
2017 Jacinta Ruru First Laws: Tikanga Māori in / and the Law
2018 Gillian Triggs The Movement of People and Asylum Seekers in the Asia Pacific: A Rule of Law Approach
2019 Vanessa Munro Judging Juries: The 'Common Sense' Conundrums of Prosecuting Violence Against Women[8]


  1. ^ a b c Dekker, Diana. "Smith sought justice for all". Stuff. Retrieved 29 November 2017.
  2. ^ Gaitanos, Sarah. "Smith, Shirley Hilda Stanley". Dictionary of New Zealand Biography. Ministry for Culture and Heritage. Retrieved 9 May 2021.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g "Shirley Smith". The Shirley Smith Address. 8 March 2016. Retrieved 29 November 2017.
  4. ^ Easton, Brian (2000). "Sutch, William Ball". Dictionary of New Zealand Biography. Retrieved 29 November 2017.
  5. ^ a b c Aitken, Ema (February 2008). "Shirley Hilda Stanley Smith, 1916 – 2007". New Zealand Law Society. Retrieved 29 November 2017.
  6. ^ Schultz, Ulrike; Shaw, Gisela (2003). Women in the World's Legal Professions. Hart Publishing. p. 126. ISBN 9781841133195.
  7. ^ "Past Addresses". The Shirley Smith Address. 8 March 2016. Retrieved 29 November 2017.
  8. ^ "2019 Shirley Smith Address by Professor Vanessa Munro – "Judging Juries: The 'Common Sense' Conundrums of Prosecuting Violence Against Women"". The Law Foundation New Zealand. August 2019. Retrieved 24 November 2021.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]