New Zealand Law Society - Honourable Rex Mason Prize for Legal Writing 2023

Honourable Rex Mason Prize for Legal Writing 2023

The Honourable Rex Mason Prize for Legal Writing was again competed for in 2023. The prize is managed by the Wellington branch of the Law Society, as trustee for the Honourable Rex Mason Trust.

The prize is New Zealand’s longest-established legal writing award, having been set up in 1973. It commemorates Henry Greathead Rex Mason (1885-1975), one of New Zealand’s longest-serving MPs. After completing an LLB at Victoria University College, Mr Mason became a lawyer in Pukekohe. The Wellington branch of the New Zealand Law Society manages the award, as trustee for the Honourable Rex Mason Trust.

The award is judged by a nominee of the Chief Justice, the Dean of Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington Law School, and the Editor of the New Zealand Law Journal. This year, those judges were Justice Jill Mallon, Dean Lee Godden and Dr Brenda Midson.

We would like to thank all ten people who entered and the judges for their time to read through the entries. The judging panel considered all entries to be excellent. They covered a diverse range of topical legal issues at this time in our society and were well executed, informative and interesting to read.

The winning entry for 2023 was the article written by Sarah Baird (Ngāti Kahungunu), “A Critical Analysis of the Law Governing the “Involvement Hearing” under New Zealand’s Fitness to Stand Trial Process and Proposals for Reform” which appeared in the New Zealand Universities Law Review in December 2022.

The judges of the prize, together with Sarah, joined the Wellington Branch Council via Zoom to recognise the award.  Justice Mallon noted that Sarah’s article, sparked by a case she had seen in her early career, examined a vexed area of the law, and one which has significant consequences if the law in this area is out of kilter, as the article strongly argues that it is.

Justice Mallon went on to refer to the article’s objective to “draw attention to the need for development of the law in this area to enhance the rights of a vulnerable sector in our society and through that advance equality within the law”. The judge said "[Sarah] you brought the reader along with clear logic and analysis and your conclusion was compellingly put. The article was a pleasure to read.”

Sarah said “I am honoured that the article has been recognised in this way. I am eager to highlight the kaupapa of the award, in particular, the focus on the need for the development of law in times of social change. I am hopeful the award provides a platform for the proposals within the article and it can move beyond stimulating interest to effecting real change.”

Sarah is currently working as an employed barrister for Philip Hamlin, practicing exclusively in criminal defence. In her role she appears regularly in the various District Courts across Auckland on smaller matters and has appeared as junior counsel in the High Court on more serious matters. Sarah has a particular interest in assisting with cases where criminal law and mental health law intersect and is currently involved in a Court of Appeal case striking at the heart of the issue explored in her article.

Sarah said “Despite still enjoying the academic and literary aspects of the law, I have relished the opportunity to put this into practice and work with the vast range of people engaged in the criminal justice system.”

The Judges highly commended Luke Fitzmaurice-Brown (Te Aupōuri) for his article “Te Rito o Te Harakeke: Decolonising Child Protection Law in Aotearoa New Zealand” that was published in the Victoria University of Wellington Law Review, December 2022. Justice Mallon noted that this was “a thought-provoking piece on decolonising child protection law in Aotearoa and what a tikanga framework might look like in this area.”

They also commended the work of Edward Willis saying that the article “provided insight into whether the Official Information Act is working as it should be.” The article is “A Survey of Ministerial Compliance with the Official Information Act 1982” published in the Canterbury Law Review, 2022.

Together with the judges the Wellington Branch Council of the Law Society congratulates Sarah on her achievement and a prize of $1000.00 has been awarded.