New Zealand Law Society - Two Ethel Benjamin winners

Two Ethel Benjamin winners

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Two Auckland lawyers – Rebecca Thomson and Stephanie Thompson – are the 2015 winners of the New Zealand Law Foundation Ethel Benjamin Scholarship.

A solicitor in Meredith Connell’s High Court and proceeds of crimes teams, Rebecca will use the scholarship for study towards an LLM at Columbia University.

Her proposed research project is entitled New Zealand’s Crown Solicitor Network: ethical and practical concerns.

New Zealand’s prosecution model is unusual, Rebecca says. The state contracts with 15 individuals who head private firms around the country to prosecute the most serious crime in each region.

“There are two primary concerns with engaging private lawyers to act as prosecutors. The first is philosophical: the state abdicating its sovereign power to coerce citizens who breach the criminal code.”

Rebecca will look at the question as to whether the state can “delegate such a basic function while complying with its basic obligation to protect the rights of its citizens. Is the delegation of a fragment of sovereignty consistent with the state’s continued sovereignty?”

The second concern is practical. “Allowing a private lawyer to take on the state’s power to enforce laws raises a moral hazard: how is that lawyer to be held accountable? What mechanisms will ensure quality decision-making and prevent abuses of power?”

Her research will focus on both the constitutional problem, which requires an answer in the realm of political philosophy, and practical solutions for the “practical” problem.

The research, Rebecca says, is timely because “creative solutions may be needed sooner rather than later in New Zealand”.

As well as being a solicitor at Meredith Connell, Rebecca is also a tutor for public laws at Auckland University.

From 2010 to 2011 she was a judge’s clerk to Justice Tipping in the Supreme Court, as well as being a tutor for legal research and writing at Victoria University in 2011.

Rebecca won a 2015 Pegasus Scholarship to the Inner Temple, London, and in 2009 she won the Otago District Law Society Prize for general excellence throughout a law degree.

Rebecca graduated from Otago University in 2010 with an LLB (Hons) and BA (Hons) in Philosophy and Political Studies.

A junior barrister at Bankside Chambers in Auckland, Stephanie will study towards an LLM at Cambridge University.

Her courses will focus on international trade and foreign direct investment. Her dissertation will be entitled Taking Account of Investor Fault in International Treaty Arbitration.

“Investment treaties originated as instruments to protect investors,” Stephanie says.

“However increasingly states are questioning whether the balance has moved too far in favour of investors.

“This issue is particularly relevant to New Zealand, as we have witnessed widespread public protests against entering the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a proposed investment treaty with 11 states, including Australia, Canada, Japan, Singapore and the United States.”

In her research, Stephanie plans to investigate the theoretical principles underpinning investor fault doctrines such as contributory negligence, and demonstrate why at a normative level it is appropriate for tribunals to apply them.

“Secondly, I plan to draw together instances in which tribunals have already applied these doctrines.” The last stage of her research “will be to develop a clear framework for addressing investor fault”.

As well as her junior barrister role, Stephanie tutors at the Auckland University Law Faculty, teaching law and society, legal method and equity. In 2014 Stephanie was the junior barrister representative on the New Zealand Bar Association Council. She graduated from Auckland University with an LLB (Hons) and a BA, obtaining the Dean’s Academic Excellence Award for Law and a Senior Scholar Award from the Faculty of Arts.

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