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James Rapley KC

James Rapley QC Bridgeside Chambers

Qualifications: LLB, LLM (Hons)
Admitted: July 1990

Contact details:


Phone: +64 3 964 8000

Mobile: +64 27 5600 707


P.O. Box 3180
Christchurch 8140

In May 2004, James commenced practice as a Barrister after working as a senior prosecutor for the Serious Fraud Office and Crown Solicitor’s Office for nearly ten years.  James was appointed a Queen’s Counsel in 2018 (now called King’s Counsel).

James specialises in criminal defence litigation and has appeared as counsel in the District and High Courts on numerous high profile trials involving serious fraud, drug, murder, sexual crimes and other crimes of violence.  He is also highly experienced in regulatory prosecutions (Animal Welfare, Health & Safety & Tax) brought by entities such as the Ministry for Primary Industries, IRD and the Department of Internal Affairs.

To date James has conducted over 160 criminal jury trials.  In 2022 James appeared as appellate counsel in the Supreme Court on the complex issue of whether life imprisonment should be imposed on defendants suffering from mental health issues at the time of the offending (R v Van Hemert [2023] NZSC 116).  In 2023 James appeared as appellate counsel in the Supreme Court about what a secondary party must foresee in order to be convicted of unlawful act manslaughter (R v Burke).  He has appeared in over 45 Court of Appeal hearings as appellate counsel.  James has been appointed by the District and High Courts as amicus curiae, most notably in 2016 for the WINZ double homicide trial of one of New Zealand’s most notorious killers (R v Tully).  James has also been appointed by the Supreme Court to assist the court and carry out independent enquiries on its behalf (Rolleston v R [2020] NZSC 113).  During 2011 – 2012 James was counsel in the Royal Commission hearings on the Pike River Coal Mine Tragedy and the Canterbury Earthquakes.

In 2011 James was approached by Thomson Reuters to co-author a legal text with Judge Tony Willy.  This exciting addition to New Zealand’s legal literature is titled Advocacy and was launched in March 2013.  In the foreward to Advocacy NZ Supreme Court Judge, Sir William Young J said he “commended the authors for the completeness of the exercise, their thoughtful analysis of the issues, the liveliness and readability of the text and, most significantly, the very substantial practical utility of their advice.” Advocacy has received glowing reviews from senior members of the bar.

In 2012 James became a member of the Legal Services Advisory Board.  The Board provides high level strategic advice to the Secretary for Justice when considering the provision of legal aid and community legal services.

In 2020 James was appointed to the Racing Integrity Board – Racing Appeals Tribunal panel. The RIB Appeals Tribunal preside and adjudicate on appeals in accordance with the racing rules of Thoroughbred, Harness or Greyhound racing.

In 2021 James was appointed to Te Kāhui Tātari Ture (Criminal Case Review Commission) External Specialist Advisory Panel. Te Kāhui Tātari Ture is an independent Crown entity. It reviews potential miscarriage of justice cases and refers appropriate cases back to an appeal court if it is in the interests of justice to do so.

James teaches Trial Advocacy at both the University of Canterbury in Christchurch and the University of South Pacific in Port Vila, Vanuatu.  In 2017 and 2020 James was asked to teach at the Australian Bar Association Advanced Trial Advocacy Intensive in Sydney and Melbourne.

James established the mentoring committee to assist young practitioners in Christchurch and has been both vice-president and president of the Canterbury Criminal Bar Association.  James was a member of the New Zealand Law Society Criminal Law Committee (2013 – 2021) and the Lawyers Standards Committee (2013 – 2019).  He has been a faculty member of the NZLS Litigation Skills course since 2006 and was its Deputy Director in 2019 and Director in 2023.  James has been on the faculty for NZLS Advanced Litigation Skills course since 2019.  He was on the NZBA Council from 2020 – 2023 and Co-Chair of the NZBA Advocacy Training Committee and Criminal Director for NZBA Mastering Advocacy Programme from 2017 – 2023.  James has been active in promoting restorative justice and for five years was a Trustee on the Board of Restorative Justice Services Ōtautahi  (2014 – 2019).