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Feminist judgments collection launched

12 December 2017

A collection of key New Zealand judgments re-written from a feminist legal perspective has been published. 

Feminist Judgments of Aotearoa New Zealand: Te Rino: a Two-Stranded Rope, is published by Hart Publishing. It is edited by Elisabeth McDonald, Rhonda Powell, Māmari Stephens and Rosemary Hunter.

The collection asks how key New Zealand judgments might read if they were written by a feminist judge. It contains alternative judgments and commentaries for 25 key New Zealand cases from 1914 to 2015. Nineteen of these are written from a feminist perspective and six use an approach based on mana wahine (the use of Māori values that recognise the complex realities of Māori women’s lives).

The collection is the result of a collaborative effort of 57 contributors (female and male) with funding support from the New Zealand Law Foundation.

The contributors included academics, lawyers and judges from a diverse range of backgrounds. They worked together on draft judgments at a number of workshops with experts on judgment writing.

“The challenge for the participating feminist judges was to reimagine a decision from a feminist or mana wahine perspective while operating within the social and legal context that existed at the time," one of the editors, Professor Elisabeth McDonald, says.

"The judgments are a plausible and powerful critical commentary that demonstrate that such a decision-making approach would have been possible."

The rewritten judgments cover a range of legal areas, not just the traditional “women’s” areas such as criminal law and family law. The cases also cover environmental law, health law, equity, land law, company law and public law.

“There’s often more than one solution that can be reached through the law, and more than one way to get there and judges make choices about the approaches they take. We have shown how judges could be making different choices and delivering better on equality,” editor Dr Rhonda Powell says.

“This project has huge potential to affect the ability of the judicial system to deliver justice for New Zealanders. Although we focused on women and Māori women, the lessons learnt are able to be generalised to other disadvantaged groups.”

In a review of the book in LawTalk, Hawke's Bay barrister Caroline Hickman says for legal practitioners, the exercise in reading feminist judgments is an important opportunity to learn about how alternative experiences can be used to challenge existing legal doctrines in a legitimate way.

"Feminist Judgments Aotearoa is a fascinating, sometimes confronting, but ultimately extremely rewarding read which challenges us to see other legitimate possibilities in the law," she says.

Last updated on the 12th December 2017