New Zealand Law Society - New projects tackling big issues

New projects tackling big issues

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2016 promises to be an exciting year for the New Zealand Law Foundation, with more new projects under way than ever before.

We are currently backing 76 active projects, compared with around 50 in past years. This reflects the level of interest the Foundation is getting from legal and socio-legal researchers around New Zealand. Many of the valuable projects they are working on simply would not happen without our support.

Listed below are some of the projects most recently approved by our board – they address some of the more challenging legal issues of our time, including surrogacy law, ACC appeals, and New Zealand’s response to the Islamic State threat.

There’s no bigger issue for New Zealand than making our country as good as it could be, and one of our finest young legal scholars is taking on that massive subject, with support from the Foundation.

Max Harris, described as one of the most brilliant and eloquent law graduates of the current generation, is aiming to stir up and shift debates on key issues that confront our society. His “New Zealand Project” will tackle topics including the future of biculturalism and the Treaty of Waitangi, the independence of New Zealand foreign policy, our “clean and green” credentials, and our criminal justice policy.

Max, aged 27, is currently an Examination Fellow at All Souls College, Oxford, one of the world’s most competitive and prestigious academic awards. He has been a Rhodes Scholar, a Judges Clerk for the Chief Justice, an intern at the United Nations Development Programme and the American Civil Liberties Union in New York, a Rethinking Crime and Punishment Board member, and the author of articles in the New Statesman, the Huffington Post, and several law journals.

Rethinking surrogacy

This three-year project aims to address an area of law that is becoming increasingly outdated in New Zealand and world-wide as social and scientific conditions change.

Project team leader Dr Debra Wilson of Canterbury University says it is widely acknowledged that current surrogacy law does not work, and forces judges to “creatively interpret” existing law.

“It used to be that a child came from two people. Now there are potentially multiple people with a legal claim to being involved in bringing a child into the world,” she says.

Dr Wilson is leading an eight-person multi-disciplinary research team. Interviews for the initial scoping phase of the project found that inadequate law was leading to parents’ relationships with their children not being legally recognised.

Work has now started on phase two, also supported by the Foundation, which will examine the impacts of New Zealand’s surrogacy arrangements. Ultimately the project will produce options for law reform and a model surrogacy law.

Fairer ACC appeals

Research made possible by the Law Foundation has helped change the course of government reform to the ACC appeals process.

As a result, ACC claimant support group Acclaim Otago is now working co-operatively with the Government to develop practical ways for ACC appellants to get access to justice.

Acclaim Otago’s initial report on the ACC appeals process, published last year, found major problems with the existing process, including the cost to claimants of preparing medical and legal evidence for appeals. The authors were concerned about a Government plan to replace access to courts with a new ACC appeals tribunal, arguing that the Government was required to consult on this.

This prompted the Government to halt setting up the tribunal last June, with ACC Minister Nicky Kaye acknowledging that Acclaim Otago’s report had raised “genuine issues”. In December, the Government released a discussion paper seeking feedback on four options for the appeals process, including the status quo. It also commissioned an independent review by Miriam Dean QC of issues raised in the Acclaim Otago report.

The Acclaim Otago team, led by Warren Forster, will produce a further report this year. “Having identified problems with access to justice, we now need to try to do something about it to improve people’s experiences,” he says.

NZ’s war against Islamic State

Combating the Islamic State threat has involved balancing the risks posed by terrorism with the threat to civil liberties.

A Waikato University study will examine how New Zealand has addressed this balance in its response to Islamic State “at home”. It will also study New Zealand’s contribution to the international coalition.

The study authors, Professor Al Gillespie and Dr Claire Breen, will look into the risks, successes, shortcomings and options for this country in dealing with Islamic State. It will cover existing legal responses, New Zealand’s international civil liberties obligations, and the approaches of comparable countries such as the United Kingdom and Australia.

Feminist judgments

This project involves writing alternative judgments, based on feminist theory, covering a range of legal issues.

The project, replicating similar projects in other countries, will show how feminist ideas can be implemented in legal practice. They will be a critique of common law method and show how different perspectives can affect the way the law delivers justice, dealing with unconscious bias in judicial decision-making.

The project leaders, Dr Rhonda Powell of Canterbury Law School and Associate Professor Elisabeth McDonald of Victoria Law Faculty, aim for the alternative judgments to become teaching resources for law students, lawyers, the judiciary and the public.

One Judge, One Family

Currently, most criminal charges and Family Court applications are dealt with by different judges, creating potential for inconsistent case resolution.

Zoe Lawton’s research project will explore redesigning the District, Youth and Family Courts so that a single judge is assigned to each family, regardless of the issue before the court.

Ms Lawton says New Zealand has among the highest rates of intimate partner and family violence rates in the developed world. Her project will explore how a one judge/one family case management system may deliver better outcomes in family violence cases. Her research will include study in Israel, which has such a system.

For more information on these and other projects, visit

Lynda Hagen is the New Zealand Law Foundation Executive Director.

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