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Steven Sutton

Special Counsel, Wellington

Public Law and Regulation

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Steven brings an insider’s perspective on how government operates from a decade advising at the cutting edge of domestic and international public law and policy issues, including as a deputy chief executive at Te Puni Kōkiri | Ministry of Māori Development, a China-based trade representative for five years, and a lawyer in the Beehive.
He has first-hand experience of the practical and legal side of advising ministers, public sector senior leadership, strategy and project implementation, negotiating with China's government agencies, Cabinet decision making processes, policy-development, Māori policy issues, and government inquiries. 

In particular, Steven has on the ground experience from working in China for five years, and as an in house lawyer at the Ministry for Primary Industries, giving him industry experience in natural resources, food production and exporting, and the dairy, fisheries, forestry, honey, horticulture, meat, and wine industries.
Steven began his legal career at Russell McVeagh, working from 2008 and 2014 in the Public Law and Policy team.


In his private and public sector work, Steven has advised on a range of public and regulatory issues, including:

  • Strategic advice, and immediate tactical advice, over two and a half years to the chief executive of a government department on the full range of political, policy, and regulatory considerations affecting the department.

  • Interpreting the market access rules for New Zealand goods exported to China, and assisting officials and industry representatives with the rules.

  • Bilateral negotiations with Chinese regulators.

  • Managing a government department’s participation in an inquiry under the Inquiries Act 2013, including preparing the department’s submissions, evidence, accompanying witnesses, and advising the chief executive and deputy chief executives both as witnesses and on the department’s strategy.

  • Advising the Prime Minister and Ministers on decision making processes, including managing conflicts of interest, and Cabinet Manual rules.

  • Advising on a law reform project spanning 15 countries.

  • Acting as advisor to a select committee on a members bill.

  • Advising on the regulatory impact of proposed industry restructuring in the horticulture sector.

  • Advising on the drafting of regulations and tertiary-level notices.


LLB, BA (Hons), University of Otago.
MPhil, University of Cambridge
Advanced Chinese training, International Chinese Language Programme, National Taiwan University


Steven’s legal and professional career spans commercial work at Russell McVeagh, appointment as a government department deputy chief executive, in market trade representation in China, and legal work for two years based in the Beehive.

Until September 2022, Steven worked as a deputy chief executive at Te Puni Kōkiri | Ministry of Māori Development, the government’s principal policy advisor on Māori wellbeing and development. As a member of the ministry’s executive leadership team, he shared responsibility for strategy setting and advising Ministers. His specific responsibilities covered risk and assurance, project management, governance, ministerial services, and providing strategic and tactical advice to the chief executive.

Steven worked as an in house lawyer and as a trade representative at the Ministry for Primary Industries. As a lawyer his responsibilities covered managing the ministry’s response to a government inquiry, and advising on aspects of dairy, fisheries, forestry, horticulture, and meat industry regulation.

Steven was then posted to China for five years as a trade representative for New Zealand. He learned spoken and written Chinese to business proficiency. Posted to New Zealand’s Embassy in Beijing, he worked most recently as the Counsellor responsible for market access between New Zealand and the People’s Republic of China. His brief covered maintaining and enhancing the rules governing market access for most goods trade with China, including dairy, honey, horticultural, meat, seafood, and wood products. His work demanded constant connections with China’s food safety, biosecurity, and border agencies, and New Zealand exporters and their local agents.

For two years he was based in the Beehive working at the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet as the Legal and Constitutional Advisor in the Cabinet Office. There Steven experienced first-hand how the machinery of government operates as he assisted the Secretary of the Cabinet in advising the Governor-General, the Prime Minister, and Ministers on legal and constitutional matters affecting executive government decision making.

Steven started his legal career at Russell McVeagh, working between 2008 and 2014 as a graduate, solicitor, and finally senior solicitor in the Public Law and Policy team. He primarily advised commercial clients. Steven received a Russell McVeagh scholarship when at university.

Steven has also previously served in governance roles as a director/board member, including the New Zealand Customs Service's Assurance and Risk Committee, the Council of the University of Otago, University Book Shop (Otago) Limited, Student Job Search Aotearoa Incorporated, and Planet Media Dunedin Limited.

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