Part street lawyer and part renaissance man, barrister Tudor Clee is LawFuel’s lawyer of the year for 2022.
A man of many faces and varied interests, a lawyer who represents much of what good lawyers do: fearless fighting for the rights of clients, but the man who was meant to be a ‘stay-at-home dad’ this year has instead gone into bat for clients locked out of their own country in one of the most overtly hostile actions any country could take against its own citizens.
The once legal aid lawyer from South Auckland who had more legal aid files than any other lawyer has also used his energy far beyond his legal world to help build an award-winning UNICEF-endorsed global education programme.
But his principal recognition comes from his fighting for many, including pregnant women and their partners who sought to beat the New Zealand Government’s MIQ’ s shambolic and shameful lottery system for re-entry to their homeland.
The latest MIQ ‘transit visa’ entry prosecutions against those who used the so-called loophole to re-enter New Zealand has seen those prosecuted vindicated for their ‘cheating’ and who are now seeking an apology for the action taken against them.
And ombudsman Peter Boshier has criticized the MIQ lottery system that failed to act ‘with reason, sympathy and honour’.
The ‘loophole lawyer’, Tudor Clee assisted people like Sophia Basile, trapped in Italy by Covid and wanting to return home and – much more prominently – the Al Jazeera journalist Charlotte Bellis, denied entry despite her pregnancy.
Fighting the inhumanity and illegality of the system fell to ‘Grounded Kiwis’, by for Tudor Clee even they posed major problems in his own fight for clients to re-enter their home. His fighting lead LawFuel to make the ‘loophole lawyer’, the former Street Lawyer and battler as LawFuel’s Lawyer of the Year for 2022.
Tudor Clee: His story
There is little about Tudor Clee that could be described as altogether conventional so far as his legal career – or life – is concerned. While his low key website describes himself as a criminal and traffic lawyer, he might be best described as a Renaissance Man and barrister, who has always chosen his own path within his legal career and life, putting himself in a uniquely unusual position for a barrister who has helped successfully battle the disparaged MIQ lottery system.
Speaking to LawFuel from Mexico, where he is currently spending time with his family, the peripatetic lawyer is currently maintaining his fight for compensation for those clients who were denied entry back to their home in New Zealand.
The former legal aid barrister entered the fray to challenge the unparalleled restrictions imposed upon the country by the government, with its callous lottery system determining who could return home.
But the law was not a calling that was by any means a foregone conclusion for the barrister and his colourful career.
Fashion Label to Law School
After dropping out of law school to start a software company and then a fashion label, one of his clothing clients, a criminal barrister, persuaded him to complete his degree.
Unsure about whether to pursue a career in design or law, he was making shirts for Silicon Valley executives in what promised to be an increasingly successful venture.
He graduated and was admitted to the bar by current Chief Justice Dame Helen Winkelmann.
He recalls the occasion vividly:
“She was wearing a Gucci belt with white gold Gs the size of dinner plates. Her sister had shown her shoe designs at the same Fashion Week I displayed at and we chatted about that. She was very encouraging about me having a legal career and I’m not surprised she became Chief Justice.”
Working principally in the Manukau court handling legal aid work, he had applied for legal aid categorization in 2009, working as a duty lawyer.
He realised that many clients were unable to contact lawyers because of the cost of calling a mobile.
Drawing on his proactive approach and entrepreneurial nature, he obtained the toll-free number 0800 Busted, which went viral in the South Auckland criminal community, resulting in up to 80 calls a day requesting legal aid help – and all answered by a single lawyer.
Legal Aid Changes
However, the legal aid regime was destined to change and, as Clee says, “It was bad news for me at the time.”
He challenged the changes that caused some people to be unable to obtain legal aid. Barrister Brian Henry (left) was retained to challenge the decision, which went to the Court of Appeal and was dismissed.
But there was worse news to come for Clee: a defective oil heater set his home on fire. He was asleep inside and barely made it before it was engulfed in flames and destroyed.
He took a seven-year sabbatical.
The World Tour & Touchable Earth
“I decided to travel to every country in the world and fulfil my boyhood dream of doing so.
“To maximise the educational benefit, I designed a program to answer a question I asked myself during my childhood: what was a kid my age like in all these places on the map?
“I contacted the largest schools organization in the world, iEARN.org, and was lucky that its head, Ed Gragert, loved the idea. He offered to put me in touch with schools almost anywhere on the planet to make it easier to create the content.
“ ‘Touchable Earth’ was so named due to tablets becoming accessible and I loved the idea of kids holding the world in their hands.”
Clee developed his ‘global citizenship’ program by filming children sharing aspects of their lives, such as family, culture and schools.
The program won multiple UN awards, including being named the best program in the world for global citizenship. It was translated into French and English and has been used by over 100,000 unique users across 180 countries.
He visited all 193 member states of the UN.
“On 22 November 2017, I touched down in Angola in what was the 193rd and final member state of the UN I had visited over the previous 6 years.
It was a philosophical moment rather than a celebration. It was a privilege more than an achievement. I didn’t board a plane for the first 6 months of 2018.
However, the UN countries were just a start: to pursue my interest in geopolitics and identity, I visited the remaining 13 sovereign states and 40 of the world’s 49 dependent territories.”
Through the development of the program he also reconnected with the law, developing his practice and his thoughts regarding the law.
The Legal Re-Connect
“Travelling undoubtedly improved my approach to law. It developed empathy, problem solving, communication and likely many other things I can’t specify but have noticed.
“I’ve always seen law as a means to an end. That said, I’ve always seen it as pointless to be a lawyer and not represent people.”
The birth of his son in 2021 prior to lockdown was the start of a plan to visit family in Europe and avoid new clients, but things soon changed when a friend, Roshni Sami, contacted him to help get her husband back into New Zealand from the United States for the birth of their child following an unsuccessful MIQ application.
“I thought a simple letter citing UN Human Rights law and Sir Peter Gluckman’s research on pre-natal health would have the issue resolved promptly. It didn’t. Then I thought a simple Judicial Review would have the problem resolved. It didn’t.
Misogyny, Arrogance & Incompetence
“The depth of misogyny, arrogance, and total incompetence of the Government became apparent when they spent no less than $43,000 on Crown Law fees (released by OIA) to prepare to fight the interim order hearing, then giving up 15 minutes before close of business the day before Court.”
“That money could have done so much good to support pregnant women who were struggling in lockdown, but instead it was used to harm them”
He filed his first ever judicial review while his inbox was being filled with women in a similar position.
“I advised Crown Law on the 29th of October 2021 that they should tell their client to include pregnancy in MIQ criteria and stop breaking the law.
It is important to remember that the babies are New Zealand citizens – and children (including babies) are the only class of human that have a United Nations Law stating that their interests are “paramount”.
“I had submitted Sir Peter Gluckman’s taxpayer-funded research outlining the harm to mothers and babies through causing undue stress. He even provided a cover letter stating it was based on “numerous peer-reviewed international papers” and it was “medically unethical in every case” to deny a pregnant woman or partner a space in MIQ.”
The Government Response
The Government response – via MBIE – was to assert that Sir Peter Gluckman’s research was not “black and white’” as Clee maintained.
This was despite the Government announcing only four months earlier that they were changing the Well Child Tamariki Ora policy to increase support for pregnant women based on the same science.
The MIQ allocations were, they said, based on “national, social and economic interests”, which evidently did not include women’s health but did, as Clee observed, include “64 foreign DJs” who were granted places.
“The following week I filed 5 Judicial reviews in a day. I was careful to file no new information to avoid a slippery excuse about changed circumstances if the Government backed down.
“I appreciate Crown Law was the meat in the sandwich and they responded quickly to all the filings.”
Of the five applications, two were granted MIQ spots, two obtained lottery vouchers during proceedings and one was rejected.
“She was forced to give birth to a baby that was placed immediately into special care in a foreign hospital. This was a known risk, provided from the hospital, but rejected as grounds for a space by Brigadier Rose King (the decision-maker).”
“I am still haunted by that final case. New Zealand had reached the point where the head of the military, with no medical qualification, was making obstetric decisions that directly harmed a mother and a baby and no one seemed to care.
“MBIE flew in 8 or 9 foreign DJs during the time this litigation was going through.
“I am intrigued to see what the NZDF medal for this will look like: keeping us safe from pregnant women will surely merit a unique design.
Another case of note was that of a 17-year-old father and a barely 18-year-old mother who had been rejected. That was granted during litigation. He was fortuitously released from MIQ hours before the baby was born.”
During this fraught period, Clee, his partner and baby were travelling through Europe, Africa, the Caribbean and Central America.
“My partner picked up nuances in the women’s situations that I had missed. In one case she understood the level of peril a woman was in and made me call her immediately (from the top of a volcano in the Azores islands) to say we would support getting her home immediately. She had already been rejected once.
Her voucher came through with a day to spare. Her baby was born in New Zealand with serious complications. If she had applied even a day later she would have been trapped where she was and the baby’s life would have been in extreme danger.”
He continued to help 30 families, including Roshni Sami, and provided a mixture of both legal and advocacy work, assisting in 14 vouchers being granted – which OIA statistics showed was about 90 per cent of all pregnancy vouchers granted at the time.
The Border Closure
“During this period, I read the legislation to try and work out how the border was actually ‘closed’. It turned out it wasn’t.”
Clee noticed that carriers would permit people to fly if they held a transit ticket, flying via New Zealand to another country.
“The Government cleverly used commercial carriers to deny boarding to people without an MIQ voucher – thus off-shoring breaching the Bill of Rights and outsourcing it to a non-liable company.”
“As a citizen you have an unfettered right to enter New Zealand – so anyone who landed could decide to just enter New Zealand instead of continuing onwards. The penalty for this was an infringement notice of $1000.
“Compared to the cost of being banned from freely returning and being stuck overseas, this was a small price to pay.
“I published a ‘how to’ guide on Facebook. It was promptly censored by Grounded Kiwis, who said I was telling people how to break the law. My posts mysteriously vanished from other Facebook groups too: I guess the Government didn’t enjoy reading their best-laid plan was hackable if someone spent a whole 15 minutes reading the law.”
However, in? January 2022 the story of those entering New Zealand via the ‘transit route’ was broken by the media.
The Government entered panic mode, as demonstrated by OIA releases, and a panel consisting of Crown Law, multiple ministries and advisors accepted that they couldn’t stop it, but only try to publicly deride it as selfish.
“Of greater concern was the suggestion they make it an imprisonable criminal offence.
“They viewed this as an excellent deterrence as people would fear damaging their employment or travel prospects with a conviction.
“No one in that email chain pointed out there may be an ethical issue with actually putting a New Zealand citizen in prison for entering their own country.”
Clee’s dismay at the Government response remains intense. How could any Government punish a citizen for entering their own country?
“This hubris is chilling. Many serious human rights violations all over the world started with a group of people like this being utterly clueless as to the seriousness of the consequences of what they were suggesting.”
Clee acted pro bono when two citizens, who entered New Zealand with transit tickets, took their case to Court. The infringement’s were promptly dismissed with the Court stating:
“As New Zealand citizens they were legally able to enter the country at any time. The fact that they had pre-booked the ongoing flights and subsequently decided not to take them has no relevance. As New Zealand citizens they had the right to make that choice.”
He is also critical of Grounded Kiwis, the advocacy group set up to challenge the MIQ system which saw a successful High Court action, led by Paul Radich KC, (right) that found certain elements of the MIQ system to be unlawful and in breach of the Bill of Rights Act 1990.
In Clee’s view, the case did little to nothing towards easing the burden imposed upon New Zealanders unable to return home to join their families or to bid a final farewell to a deceased parent or other family member.
“The first person to move the dial was Murray Bolton. There were 1000’s of people with the means to take on the Government’s unlawful bullying behaviour but he was the only one to risk public ire and step up the plate. He showed the power of individual cases rather than the large catchall of Grounded Kiwis that was too little too late”
The success of citizens entering the country on transit tickets saw articles removed by moderators and his own comments deleted. Clee said his own comments were ‘throttled’ by the group because he was seen as ‘subverting’ the MIQ system.
“No I wasn’t,” he says. “You are a citizen, you fly to your country, you can enter. I was explaining the law but it didn’t suit their narrative for people to know their rights”
“Grounded Kiwis was taking money from people who were often desperate and trapped thinking they had no option to return to New Zealand, while censoring mainstream news articles featuring independent lawyers agreeing it was legal to jump on a transit flight and come home the next day. I considered this totally unethical and made my view crystal clear.
His view is that while Grounded Kiwis won a case on a technical knockout, they didn’t obtain the return of a single person, or obtain compensation.
His view is that they incorrectly argued that there was a breach of the right to enter New Zealand under section 18 of the Bill of Rights Act in order to get their win, but it was a pyrrhic victory.
However, a major case soon threw the debate into sharp relief.
The Bellis Imbroglio
It was at this time that the case involving former Al Jazeera journalist Charlotte Bellis entered the picture, generating further publicity about the way in which the Government was handling the issue by potentially criminalising their own citizens in other jurisdictions.
“I was asked by Charlotte Bellis to help with her MIQ application. I was in Honduras with Covid, but was happy to file the application. I even went to the trouble of writing on letterhead and referencing the CIV number of each application I had taken to Court and explaining exactly why her application should be granted.
“By the time I woke up the following day it had already been rejected and even ‘deactivated’. How on earth the person at MBIE didn’t even think ‘Maybe I should ask my boss about this’ exemplifies the incompetence of the whole system.
“MBIE had correctly bet that the public was more concerned with millionaire foreign DJs making money than pregnant women being safe. When one of those DJs introduced Omicron into the community he wasn’t even prosecuted, yet MBIE remained prepared to spend any amount of taxpayer money to defend the border from devilish pregnant women.
‘Brave & Brilliant’ Bellis
“Charlotte was brave and brilliant. The foundation laid by Roshni and all the other pregnant women was a launch-pad to hold the Government accountable.
“It was clearly the biggest error of Ardern’s ‘Be Kind’ PR campaign and was the end of MIQ.”
He points to the global damage done to ‘Brand New Zealand’: the Bellis article shamed the Government, becoming headline news globally.
“It was the most shared story in The Guardian, and friends across the world told me it was on the home pages of their local news sources in over a dozen languages.
“When a man at a churros stand in Mexico City asked where I was from and, on hearing New Zealand, replied “That’s the place that banned the woman” I knew MIQ was done.”
His feelings about New Zealand’s fall from feminist grace are transparent.
“I am perversely proud that random people in Mexico know New Zealand is misogynistic.
“I used to be proud of New Zealand being the first place to give women the vote. But when your pride in feminism is based on something 120 years ago rather than progress or achievements in the present, there is a huge problem.
“I think New Zealand rested on its laurels, crowing about past glories, and allowed the grossest violation of women’s rights in a generation to pass without a whimper.”
The situation turned bitter and nasty. MP Chris Hipkins made untrue statements about Charlotte Bellis’ situation, setting the social media trolls in motion.
“I saw vulgar messages across social media attacking her, degrading her, the lot. All of it based on Hipkins’ falsehoods. I am grateful for the support of Paul Dale KC in obtaining a full and final apology from Minister Hipkins that the allegations in his statement were untrue.”
The precious nature of human rights is something he values highly.
“It is somehow logical and expected that sportsmen such as the All Blacks or Black Caps could travel as they pleased, but pregnant women were scrutinized on every possible detail and interrogated on their medical condition.
In the absence of any specific guidelines regarding pregnancy, MBIE staff dreamt up a test that pregnancies had to be “high risk”, even though they had neither a definition of what that would mean nor the expertise to assess it themselves. Women were pestered to provide additional material to satisfy a guideline that didn’t even exist.
“I saw full gynaecological histories being sent in, including of former miscarriages and STIs. These were being read by people with no medical qualifications and no duty of patient confidentiality.”
The rejections have left some women traumatised. Some had traumatic births and Clee remains focused upon seeking compensation for the preventable harm caused by the Government’s unlawful entry requirements.
The Despicable Episode
“I’m interested in the situation of Maori women. Jacinda Ardern is the first leader in the world to force indigenous women to give birth away from their own land while expediting the arrival of DJs from the original colonial power”
“One was trying to escape domestic violence. The hospital outlined the abuse from her partner forcing her to repeatedly flee for safety.
“The reviewer at MBIE wrote “She has relationship issues” and on the next line wrote “Decline”.
“I hope to see something similar to the Cartwright Enquiry into Greenlane Women’s Hospital. Until New Zealand admits that we are not a feminist utopia, but instead tolerate and justify abuse of women’s health and rights, we are doomed to repeat this despicable episode.”
Further Legal Action
He is currently petitioning UNICEF and the Children’s Commissioner to launch an investigation into MBIE failing to consider their obligations under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child – the most widely ratified international human rights treaty in history.
Clee discovered that children born outside of New Zealand have a lower classification of citizenship which would not automatically allow them to pass citizenship on to their own children. Some parents rejected by MIQ may find that their child isn’t a New Zealand citizen at all.
As such the harm inflicted by the Government, with no plan to mitigate it, is inter-generational.
There is presently no legislation available to re-classify a child as a “citizen by birth”. Delaying a remedy of this is itself a breach of Article 8 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.
A recent Health Select Committee report saw Dr Ayesha Verrall, the Minister for Covid-19 response, dodge the question of whether there should be compensation paid to those who suffered under the lottery system.
Clee is not prepared to let them off the hook and
“I’m calling on the government, and on Jacinda Ardern, to apologize to the country, for the unlawful actions inflicted upon the nation, and in particular to every family that their policies particularly harmed in this way.
“Compensation is necessary, plus Jacinda Ardern needs to immediately progress a new law to repair the citizenship status of every child forced to be born outside New Zealand. Until this is done, the betrayal of women’s and children’s rights will remain a stain on our country’s reputation.”
The fight continues, with Tudor Clee taking the battle back to the government.