New Zealand Law Society - Feminist judgment project reworking 25 decisions

Feminist judgment project reworking 25 decisions

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A Law Foundation-backed project to rewrite and reinterpret some court judgments through a feminist lens is reworking 25 existing legal decisions.

The Feminist Judgments Project Aotearoa - Te Rino: The Two-Stranded Rope plans to publish the judgments in 2017 as an edited collection, together with commentaries, for use as both a potential teaching resource and source reference for the judiciary.

Photo of Rhonda Powell
Dr Rhonda Powell. 

Based at the University of Canterbury School of Law, the project’s two strands consist of a general feminist perspective and a mana wahine strand examining judgments of particular interest to Māori women, and in which the feminist judges show sensitivity to both the cultural and the gender contexts of the cases they are rewriting.

The project initiators, Rhonda Powell and Elisabeth McDonald of the School of Law, say interest in the project has been strong since it began, with funding from the New Zealand Law Foundation in late 2015. Five female judges attended the initial judgment writing workshop in Wellington in February 2016.

Dr Powell says about 60 people are involved in the project.

“We asked people to tell us what case they wanted to work on and why. We have legal practitioners, academics, a retired judge and government lawyers. Every law school in New Zealand has at least one person involved,” she says.

Unlike most other countries that have undertaken similar projects, Feminist Judgments Project Aotearoa also includes male feminist judges.

“There is a school of thought that a man can’t be a feminist because so much of it is about the lived experience of being a woman. We thought we’d test that out and so we have a handful of men writing feminist judgments,” Dr Powell says.

For example, retired Family Court Judge John Adams is rewriting one of his own judgments for the project.

“It was quite an important judgment that set the course of a particular issue to do with relationship property division.”

Other judgments being reviewed encompass commercial, medical and family law. Each is based on established legal method and precedent and so could, in theory, have been written by a judge at the time of the original decision. All draft judgments have been shared, reviewed and discussed at workshops and each writer paired with a commentator.

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