The New Zealand Law Foundation has announced that it is to go into recess to allow its funding base to rebuild so that, in time, it can support a new generation of legal research.
The Foundation’s last funding round will be in June 2020, after which no new grant applications will be accepted. Following that, the Foundation will gradually wind down as the projects on its books are completed. All approved grants and scholarships on its books at 30 June 2020 will be honoured and the Foundation will continue to function until these projects are completed.
Since starting in 1992, the Law Foundation has been New Zealand’s major funder of independent legal research filling a vital support gap. It has granted over $30 million to hundreds of projects, many of them resulting in major improvements to legal and public policy practice.
Executive director Lynda Hagen says the decision to go into recess was very difficult, but doing so now, while the Foundation had some remaining funds, provided the best prospect for its eventual revival and long-term sustainability.
“We have taken this brave decision to ensure that, after a brief hiatus, the Law Foundation can re-launch with a sustainable fund, fit for a new generation of legal research. The alternative of depleting remaining funds and fading away was not acceptable to us.
“Going into recess now will enable our remaining capital of approximately $12 million to grow from investment returns so that, in around 10-15 years’ time, there will be sufficient funds for the Foundation to launch again sustainably and resume making grants.”
Law Foundation Chair Dr Andrew Butler says the recent arrival of another major funder, the Borrin Foundation, means that legal researchers have another potential source of support for work leading to better law and public policy. This makes it easier for the decision to be taken now, knowing there was an alternate funder.
“We have given the community 18 months to prepare for our withdrawal, and to provide time for discussions with stakeholders about the implications of our withdrawal,” he says.
Scholarships and awards to be wound up
Before going into recess, the Foundation will also progressively wind up its scholarships and awards programmes. Given the long term nature of some of the awards, some will stop this year, and others in 2020.
“We are discussing the future of these awards with other funders. We are delighted that the New Zealand Law Society has agreed to take back administration of the Cleary Memorial Prize,” Lynda Hagen says.
She says the Law Foundation has always sought innovative, future-focused projects. Its work has supported new thinking in law and policy around human reproductive technologies, regulation, and rapidly-emerging new technologies including digital currencies, driverless cars, artificial intelligence, and so-called “brain fingerprinting.”
Other Foundation-backed projects have helped improve Family Court procedure, the treatment in court of vulnerable witnesses including children and sexual violence victims, and the ACC appeals process. Its projects piloted the first Restorative Justice initiatives, addressed Maori and Treaty issues, constitutional issues, human rights issues, environmental issues and mental health issues, among many other things.
In addition to research support, the Law Foundation has funded work that strengthens legal practice, for example through support of legal education and mooting competitions.
Law Society to be custodian of records
During its period of recess, a board of trustees will continue to administer the Law Foundation and its funds. The Law Society will be the custodian of the Foundation’s records until it is ready to re-launch.
“The Law Foundation has been a major force in New Zealand legal research since 1992. Many aspects of our justice system have benefitted greatly from grants it has made,” New Zealand Law Society President Kathryn Beck says.
“The Foundation has often taken an innovative and imaginative approach to research proposals and has not been afraid of making major contributions to ground-breaking projects. The Law Society appreciates the reasons behind this decision.”
Lynda Hagen says the Law Foundation is are delighted at the support it has received from key stakeholders for this difficult decision, particularly from the Law Deans and the Law Society.
"While all are disappointed that the Law Foundation is going into recess, they understand the rationale for the decision, and see this as the best way to secure an even better future for legal research.”