AREAS OF EXPERTISE
Civil and Commercial Litigation, Conflict of Laws, Public and Administrative Law

DIRECT DIAL
+64 4 260 5041

MOBILE
+64 27 753 4543

EMAIL
esther.watt@stoutstreet.co.nz

 

Esther specialises in commercial, regulatory and public law litigation. She is an experienced advocate and acts regularly for private and public sector clients in contractual, public and administrative law, financial services, regulatory compliance and enforcement, and human rights matters.  Esther has appeared in complex commercial cases in the courts of New Zealand, the British Virgin Islands, the Dubai International Financial Centre and the Eastern Caribbean.

Esther started her career as a Judge’s Clerk to the Hon Justice Arnold in the Court of Appeal, before joining the Crown Law Office, where she worked in the criminal and human rights teams.  After completing her LLM at the University of Cambridge, Esther spent four years in the London office of a leading US commercial litigation firm. During that time, she appeared in a number of high value commercial disputes, led by Lord Falconer of Thoroton, the former UK Lord Chancellor, and Solicitor-General for England and Wales. Upon returning to New Zealand, Esther spent three years in the litigation team at Russell McVeagh, before commencing practice as a barrister at Stout Street Chambers in 2017.

Esther has a first class honours degree in law, and an arts degree majoring in psychology and philosophy from Victoria University. In 2009 she was awarded a New Zealand Federation of Graduate Women Fellowship and the Jessie Madison award to read for her LLM at the University of Cambridge.

Esther is a member of the New Zealand Law Society Law Reform Committee, and the council of the New Zealand Bar Association.

QUALIFICATIONS AND CAREER
  • LLM (Hons), University of Cambridge
  • LLB (Hons), Victoria University of Wellington
  • BA (Psychology and Philosophy), Victoria University of Wellington

Career

2017 – Present: Barrister, Stout Street Chambers

2014 – 2017: Senior Solicitor,  Russell McVeagh

2010 – 2014: Associate Attorney, Gibson Dunn LLP

2007 – 2009: Assistant Crown Counsel, Crown Law Office

2006 – 2007: Judge’s Clerk to Hon Justice Arnold, Court of Appeal

  • Commerce Commission v Vector Ltd [2019] NZHC 540 – Acting for the Commerce Commission in a proceeding alleging contravention of Quality Standards under Part 4 of the Commerce Act 1986.
  • Inquiry into the death of Samuel Jacob Fischer (Coroner’s Court, 2019) – Counsel assisting the coroner.
  • Miles Premises Limited v Attorney-General (High Court, 2019) – Appearing for the applicant in judicial review proceedings relating to the Crown’s acquisition of land following the Canterbury Earthquake.
  • Independent Review for the Reserve Bank of New Zealand of the Supervision of CBL Insurance Limited – Counsel assisting the independent reviewers.
  • R v Honk Barges Limited (Court of Appeal, 2019 and High Court, 2018) – Counsel for the defendant in a complex tax evasion trial and subsequent appeal.
  • Zhang v The Queen (Court of Appeal, 2019) – Counsel for the New Zealand Bar Association and the New Zealand Law Society (as interveners) in the Court of Appeal’s reconsideration of R v Fatu, the guideline decision for sentencing for methamphetamine offending.
  • RHH Limited v Anderson (High Court, 2018) - Acting for the defendant in a claim alleging breach of contract, breach of fiduciary duty, and negligence.
  • Young v Body Corporate 85659 [2018] NZHC 849 – Counsel for the applicant in judicial review proceedings relating to the Unit Titles Act 2010.
  • Acting for the Human Rights Commission as intervener in Supreme Court proceedings concerning the effect of a choice of law clause in an employment contract that breaches New Zealand’s anti-discrimination laws: Brown & Sycamore v New Zealand Basing Limited [2017] NZSC 139.
  • Acting for Lecretia Seales on her application to the High Court for declarations that (i) assisted dying is not unlawful under the Crimes Act 1961, and (ii) in the alternative, to the extent that the Crimes Act prevents assisted dying for a person in her circumstances, it is inconsistent with the Bill of Rights Act 1990: Seales v Attorney-General [2015] 3 NZLR 556.
  • Acting for Ngati Whatua in judicial review proceedings brought to clarify the extent of its right of first refusal over surplus land held by the Government in Tamaki Makaurau (settled in 2015).
  • Appearing with Andrew Butler as amicus curiae in Arthur William Taylor’s election petition challenging the lawfulness of the election in the Helensville electorate: Taylor v Key [2015] NZHC 722.
  • Appearing as junior counsel, led by Lord Falconer of Thoroton, for UBS AG in its successful defence of a USD 21 million claim alleging breach of contract: (Sheikh Meshal Jarah Al Sabah v UBS AG, 27 August 2013, DIFC Courts, Judgment of Sir David Steel).
  • Acting pro bono for the Hillsborough Family Support Group. We advised the group on its successful bid to overturn the verdicts handed down at the original inquest into the deaths of the 96 victims of the 1989 Hillsborough Stadium disaster.
  • Acting for Chevron Corporation on its defence against attempts to enforce against it a USD $19 billion judgment issued in Ecuador.
  • Appearing for UBS AG (in the British Virgin Islands High Court and the Eastern Caribbean Court of Appeal) in its successful defence of restitutionary claims, totalling USD 2 billion, brought by Fairfield Sentry, the largest feeder fund into Bernard L Madoff Investment Securities Ltd: Fairfield Sentry Limited (in liquidation) v Migani & Others [2014 UKPC 9].
  • Acting for a Dubai-based investment bank in enforcement proceedings brought by the Dubai Financial Services Authority (settled in 2012).
  • Appearing with the Solicitor-General in a high profile contempt of Court trial: Solicitor-General v Fairfax New Zealand Ltd HC Wellington CIV-2008-485-705, 10 October 2008.
  • Appearing for the New Zealand Parole Board in judicial review proceedings concerning its decision to release Mr McNamara: A v Parole Board & McNamara [2008] NZAR 703.