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Foundation's inaugural grants boost legal projects

29 March 2018

The Michael and Suzanne Borrin Foundation announced five inaugural grants totalling over $1.7 million in February. The Foundation was established by District Court Judge Ian Borrin shortly before his death in March 2016, in memory of his parents. Judge Borrin left $38 million in his will to the Foundation, to support legal research, education and scholarship in New Zealand.

As well as the inaugural grants, the Foundation announced a collaborative relationship with the New Zealand Law Foundation, which includes a commitment to contribute up to $150,000 a year to co-funded projects.

Details of the inaugural grants:

He Whaipaanga Hou update research

By Nick Butcher

A research project on New Zealand’s criminal justice system and how it affects Māori has received a grant of $614,420 over 18 months.

This is a large-scale research project led by Treaty of Waitangi expert and indigenous rights legal scholar Moana Jackson.

Mr Jackson of Ngāti Kahungunu, Rongomaiwahine and Ngāti Porou descent, received an honorary doctorate in law from Victoria University at the end of last year. He graduated from the same university with a Bachelor of Laws in 1969.

In 1988, Mr Jackson undertook ground-breaking research on Māori and the criminal justice system for the then Justice Department. His investigation into the justice system and its bias against Māori led to the seminal report He Whaipaanga Hou, which has reshaped the national debate and changed understandings of Māori law.

The update project he has been leading follows on from that work, again tackling New Zealand’s criminal justice system, its institutions, operations, policies and effectiveness in relation to Māori.

Moana Jackson says, currently, 51% of men in prison are Māori, and 64% of women in prison are Māori.

“These are shameful figures. Since this issue was first highlighted 30 years ago, little has changed. The Borrin Foundation grant will support our essential research into why our country continues to imprison Māori men and women at such high rates. I hope our report will lead to a more open and imaginative discussion about the criminal justice system,” he says.

Grant will boost group’s hosting of second hui on criminal justice

By Craig Stephen

A grant of $43,210 will help the justice advocacy group JustSpeak host an annual conference this year on transformative change in the criminal justice system.

Whiti Te Rā 2018 is a kaupapa Māori conference which will include socio-legal research, legal education, and presentations from leading legal and academic figures in the area of criminal justice. Organisers says it’s being held because of the failure to address the disproportionate incarceration of Māori.

The conference, which follows the inaugural hui in 2017 in Rotorua, will consider how policies, practices, and mindsets can be changed to shift the status quo. It will be held in Auckland at a date to be announced.

“The hui in 2017 was spurred by the Waitangi Tribunal’s findings that the Department of Corrections was in breach of its Treaty obligations, by failing to address the disproportionately high rates of Māori re-offending,” says Tania Sawicki Mead, JustSpeak’s director.

The 2017 conference featured justice advocates Kim Workman and Annette Sykes, and one of the outcomes was to establish a working group to achieve some of the goals that were set.

Ms Sawicki Mead says the Whiti Te Rā ‘Call to Action’ set out a number of goals under three key areas: prevention, rehabilitation and reintegration, including specific calls for drug law reform, bringing Te Ao Māori perspectives and alternatives into the justice and education system, and repealing the Bail Amendment Act.

Attendees for this year’s hui are due to come from several different sectors and backgrounds, including lawyers, academics, advocates, ex-prisoners, community leaders and government officials. JustSpeak says the conference will enable conversations between people who would not normally meet, with the intention that such conversations and relationships will be the catalyst for much more.

JustSpeak expects a broad range of people to use their collective experience and expertise to build an action-oriented plan at the conference to deliver a more effective and empathetic approach, by Māori, for Māori.

“This grant will enable JustSpeak to bring many Māori voices and perspectives together to be heard on how we achieve transformational change in criminal justice, and to build on the progress made at Whiti Te Rā last year,” says JustSpeak board member Julia Whaipooti.

Access to justice through digital innovation

By Angharad O’Flynn

In 2017 Wellington Community Law successfully developed and launched Wagbot, a Facebook Messenger chatbot that answers students’ and parents’ questions about problems at school.

The Wagbot project demonstrated the potential in using artificial intelligence systems to increase access to information.

Now, Wellington Community Law is leading the Access to Justice Through Digital Information project after receiving a $492,000 grant over three years from the Borrin Foundation.

This project will make information on tenancy law, employment law, and law related to prisoners freely accessible to the two million New Zealanders who regularly use Facebook.

The grant is for the design and development of three ‘chatbots’:

RentBot - to answer questions about tenancy law, and the legal rights and obligations of renters and landlords.

WorkBot – to answer questions about employment law – being employed, working conditions, rights and protections for employees, and how to resolve disputes.

LagBot – to answer questions about prisons – going in, being in, and being released. It is designed for whānau and wider community, prison staff, advocates of prisoners, and organisations who work with people inside prison or who are being released from prison.

Spearheaded by General Manager of Community Law Wellington, Geoffrey Roberts, and Wagbot’s lead developer, Matthew Bartlett, the project will also work with Citizen AI.

A wholly-owned subsidiary of Community Law Wellington, Citizen AI will research, develop, and promote artificial intelligence systems for public benefit.

The grant also supports legal research and legal writing work for the Community Law Manual – a comprehensive, plain English guide to New Zealand law.

The content of the manual will be used along with publications such as Lag Law as the base information for the chatbots.

Relationship property division research

A grant of $577,225 over two years has been made to the University of Otago and a team of social science researchers. The project will conduct socio-legal research into how separating couples divide their property in practice, and what New Zealanders see as fair and just when couples divide property after a relationship ends.

The interdisciplinary research team will be led by Associate Professor Nicola Taylor, Professor Mark Henaghan and Dr Megan Gollop.

Phase One of the research began in November 2017 and runs to May 2018. It involves a commissioned nationwide random telephone survey of New Zealanders aged 18 and over. Phase Two – from May 2018 to May 2020 – will involve a nationwide online survey and individual interviews with New Zealanders who have experience of dividing relationship property after separation.

“The dramatic demographic and social changes over the past four decades, including the ways in which relationships and families form and function, mean it is vital that any changes to the Property (Relationships) Act 1976 are informed by public opinion and the perspectives of separated couples on their experience of dividing their relationship property,” Associate Professor Taylor says.

Māori legal academics to benefit from grant

By Nick Butcher

Ngā Pae o te Māramatanga Summer Legal Research Internships are to be offered, thanks to the Borrin Foundation.

The grant of $39,000 will be allocated over three years to provide summer legal research internships in collaboration with Ngā Pae o te Māramatanga, and will focus on promoting Māori legal scholarship and nurturing young researchers.

Co-Director of Ngā Pae o Māramatanga, New Zealand’s Māori Centre of Research Excellence, Professor Jacinta Ruru, says they’re incredibly excited to partner with the Foundation.

“This will create a new and prestigious ongoing opportunity to positively increase relevant Māori legal scholarship for the benefit of Aotearoa New Zealand,” she says.

The Borrin Foundation intends to actively seek out high-performing individuals and organisations who will contribute to its vision through legal research and scholarship, legal writing and legal education.

Last updated on the 29th March 2018