Defence lawyers have launched a new national organisation, the Defence Lawyers Association New Zealand (DLANZ).
The association’s co-founders are Christopher Stevenson and Elizabeth Hall, senior criminal defence lawyers based at Pipitea Chambers in Wellington.
They say the DLANZ has been established to fill a gap in the New Zealand legal landscape.
“Until the DLANZ was formed there was no group that was dedicated solely to defence practitioners and the work that they do. Given the challenging and unique nature of criminal defence work, the DLANZ was formed to ensure there is a focused defence lawyers group to support, educate and advocate for defence lawyers, and contribute to law reform,” Mr Stevenson says.
The new organisation is committed to:
- Support and advocacy for defence lawyers;
- Providing specialised training to ensure a high-quality defence bar;
- Advocating for policy and legislative reform to eradicate inequalities within the criminal justice system.
- Confronting the fact that New Zealand's criminal justice system disproportionately impacts Māori at all points of the process. DLANZ will also be guided by the Māori worldview, both through members and expert advice.
“Defence lawyers see the criminal justice system up close and personal. They see the impact of an uneven criminal justice system in an environment where fundamental rights for all are under pressure,” says Ms Hall.
Mr Stevenson and Ms Hall say that these are challenging times, particularly with the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, and more than ever vulnerable defendants need to be protected, and the rule of law upheld. That is important for all New Zealanders.
“As the Minister of Justice said last year, ‘Our justice system is broken’. ;A recent review confirmed that criminal justice system is in need of desperate change,” says Mr Stevenson.
“Defence lawyers know of the problems with the criminal justice system. Defence lawyers also know there is gross over-incarceration in New Zealand, and the criminal justice system impacts disproportionately on Māori,” says Ms Hall.
The DLANZ has also established the Greg King Scholarship for promising junior defence lawyers.
Tiana Epati, President of the New Zealand Law Society, and herself a senior defence lawyer, welcomed the formation of the organisation. She said it was “especially timely to support criminal defence lawyers given they are working in high risk environments as key essential workers during the Covid-19 crisis”.
A steering committee comprising leading Queen's Counsel and defence counsel from different backgrounds from throughout the country has been formed as the organisation commences work on training, advocacy and reform.
The steering committee includes: Christopher Stevenson (Co-chair), Elizabeth Hall (Co-chair), Emily Blincoe (Secretary/Treasurer), Judith Ablett Kerr QC, Robert Lithgow QC, Marie Dyhrberg QC, Ron Mansfield, Nick Chisnall, Echo Haronga, Rob Stevens (PDS), Ngaroma Tahana, Debbie Goodlet, Julia Spelman, and Kerry Cook.