Craig is Phil Rudd’s counsel, a human rights lawyer, a specialist in international political PR, founder of NGO Slave Free Seas, a foreign legislation specialist and has a master’s in philosophy. He is now a writer too.




My journey into law started in a strange fashion, certainly not something I initially chose, perhaps just something I created space for.

I grew up in Newstead on the outskirts of Hamilton, a milkman’s son, and formed my most significant relationships during that period. I would often go out pushing the jogger, delivering milk door-to-door with my father, Garry, who was a phenomenal athlete; he has been an Olympic lifter, a marathon runner and an elite cyclist. My mother, Joy, instilled a strong sense of the importance of education, encouraging me to dream big and work hard.

I would like to say I was a hard worker during my school years – but that’s not true. I was one of those guys who left it to the last minute and crammed like crazy to just pass because I was too busy doing so many other extra-curricular activities.

Always hungry for knowledge and experience in every area of life, I started at university at 22 years old (after a false start or two), and felt like a sponge absorbing everything tertiary education had to offer across diverse disciplines; it all fascinated me.

Post-graduation, I worked as an adviser for the Corrections and Justice Departments prior to becoming a lawyer. I have drawn deep from that experience over my 30 year law career, it has been invaluable to know how the system works from many different angles.

A Master’s degree in Psychology at Waikato University in Hamilton gave me the foundation for any career I wished to follow.

I was then fortunate enough to win two scholarships to study Criminology at Cambridge University – a fully working museum with the brightest minds on the planet. That was how I saw it after arriving straight from a surfing trip in Hawaii. It was the beginning of English winter. My jandals were greeted by the porters in the colleges with amusement along with references to ‘our antipodean visitor.’

The experience at Cambridge changed me forever. I existed in daily wonder at the people and opportunities, my biggest worry was what I would miss out on when I chose something to see/hear/experience.

I enrolled in a Masters of Philosophy at the Institute of Criminology to study psychological criminology which was at the law faculty and was required to complete law papers as part of the course requirement – I immediately enjoyed the study of law more than the psychological criminology.

It was the practical nature of the law which really got me; specifically, the many hundreds of years of its development (the evolution of thinking over that time to decide on difficult issues) rather than the theorising and pontificating. A practical daily application of philosophy.

Criminal justice, criminology and criminal law have been my life for the last 30 years. The multi-disciplinary analysis of problems and court advocacy are things that I enjoy even more today than when I first started.

I have been fortunate to have great mentors along the way and privileged to have acted in some of New Zealand’s highest profile cases.

I am immensely proud of the profession and especially the independent private criminal bar who maintain a unique and separate position in civil society – vastly different to government lawyers and direct employees of the state. I see the independent criminal bar as a sacred profession, a very thin line of defence before a vast discretionary system of power wielded by those who have it over those who don’t.

It always starts with a phone call – the first one I received from Phil many years ago was a classic (most of them are). Phil is a one-off. There’s never a dull moment and he is someone who has had such a unique life experience (look at some of the old YouTube videos of him playing to thousands). He is a big reader and we share the same quirky sense of humour.

Like me, Phil is very family-focused and has a strong sense of the brevity of life and has gratitude for what we have on a daily basis. I must say his view of the world is refreshing; he doesn’t believe in a safe and conservative existence driven by the desire to feather his own nest. He is just out there and goes big – beautiful stuff.

Phil provides a great deal of support for the Tauranga community – most of it hidden. To go shopping with Phil is an eye-opener. The degree of support and respect is astounding.

Phone calls from people wanting a lawyer to assist them in some area of their life, often when the wheels have fallen off, are a daily occurrence. I provide a lot of advocacy in the mental health sector which I consider to be essentially human rights work.

At the moment I have a diverse range of cases, most of which have a human rights flavour thanks to arbitrary decision making by those in power, as well as appeals and miscarriages of justice here in New Zealand and overseas.

Often the practice of criminal law is pure human rights work with just you and your client up against the virtually unlimited resources and decision making of the police or government agencies. Until people have experienced being on the receiving end of a prosecution or some abuse of power, it is hard to comprehend the overwhelming sense of powerlessness. That is when an experienced, independent and focused lawyer can be invaluable.

I often think very carefully in advance about each sentence I deliver to the media, given the implications and consequences on somebody else’s life, especially if the end result is a political decision and potential death penalty. There is always a balance in the push-back against the agency opposing your client.

Appearing on the networks such as the BBC in London and needing political and public support, it is important to engage the media and direct the conversation and understanding so that my client’s plight is understood and support is given. Lawyers in those sorts of cases don’t have the luxury of sticking their heads in the sand and say letting the courts sort it out. It just does not work like that.

My focus now is on serious criminal cases and international human rights work in the area of human trafficking for forced labour. As a barrister I have worked alone for many years – the buck has always stopped with me. It is a deep burden and privilege and you really do take someone’s life into your hands when you act for them.

More recently, I have been working as part of an international team of lawyers and specialist non-governmental organisations (NGOs) in strategic litigation – focusing on appropriate legal remedies in whatever jurisdiction we are taking action.

I enjoy the transnational nature of what we are doing and the diverse range of cultures, laws and attitudes. It amazes me how much value lawyers can bring to the table – practical action – in systems where the use of people as disposable entities in a corporate supply chain is taken for granted. Essentially we attack a business model on the global stage.

NGOs are doing incredible work throughout the world. Slave Free Seas (SFS) is a charitable trust – voluntary and not-for-profit. We rely on the generous support of lawyers doing work for free (pro-bono), corporate responsibility initiatives, donors and those committed to change in the forced labour arena.

We were the first NGO in the world who identified what was happening in parts of the fishing sector in New Zealand with foreign charter vessels and people being treated as disposable entities.

Since then there has been global awakening to this problem and growing awareness of how some of the poorest and most vulnerable people on the planet are being used to provide the world with cheap seafood – through a no cost/low cost employment model. There is forced labour in many supply chains.

I decided early on that given the complexity of law and the strategic criminal business models used (across countries and the high seas), that unless lawyers got involved then this form of modern slavery would simply continue and grow in a global marketplace with huge consequences on the environment (labour abuses are connected to environmental degradation).

From those beginnings we are now a formidable international team of lawyers and specialists who are connected to effective NGOs and governments around the world. We have a clear picture of the problem and we are developing the best legal remedies.

If you surf, snowboard and wakeboard then it is likely that you will always be close to some of the most beautiful parts of the world.

Where else would you get to live by a beautiful farm and world-class-walk round the base (or a skip to the top) of Mauao, find incredible beaches and immediate access to the rest of the world through a simple connecting flight. I also spend a lot of time in Ohakune and the Central Plateau, both profound places.

My six children all went to school here. Our youngest daughter, Madeleine, attends Bethlehem College where she is receiving an outstanding education. Two of my granddaughters (identical twins) will be off to school here next year too. Mount Maunganui is a superb place to raise a family.

What I have learned from my work with SFS is that everything in life starts from a position of gratitude. I am immensely grateful for the education and the opportunities I have received. I believe that as a lawyer, I have an ethical responsibility to give back to those who are less fortunate. I find it hugely rewarding and humbling to have been able to represent the poorest of the poor, working in some of the most dangerous conditions. They are the most gentle and grateful people I have ever met.

It’s always great to get home to my beautiful partner and family, get barefoot and wander and splash about. Once I cross the bridge from my chambers, I simply become unemployed and available to all the Mount has to offer.