Wellington lawyers Holly Hedley and Bree Huntley are the joint 2016 winners of the New Zealand Law Foundation Ethel Benjamin Scholarship.
A barrister at Thorndon Chambers, Ms Huntley is planning to undertake an LLM at Harvard University, specialising in administrative and constitutional law.
There are two fundamental issues of public law reform that will be her major focus. “Both are of tremendous practical import for the constitutional future of New Zealand,” she says.
The first is how to make a model of administrative law, originally developed for judicial review on one particular class of administrative action – ministerial decisions under statute – fit for purpose in relation to the diversity of administrative action in contemporary New Zealand.
It is no longer the case that the decisions challenged in judicial review proceedings invariably emanate from minsters of the Crown. They now come from a wide variety of sources. Another factor is that is now common for Parliament to delegate significant legislative authority.
“We run the risk of enforcing arbitrary distinctions and creating black spots that shield particular decisions from judicial oversight,” she says.
The second issue is the project defining New Zealand’s constitution. There is “no firm consensus” as to the precise content of the constitution.
“A comprehensive definition of the constitution is crucial in identifying when the core principles of the constitution are under threat, and where reform is needed,” Ms Huntley says.
Before joining Thorndon Chambers, Ms Huntley was a judge’s clerk to the Chief Justice, Dame Sian Elias, from 2013 to 2014.
She graduated from Auckland University with an LLB (Hons) in 2011 and a BA (Hons) in English in 2012. Among the prizes she won were the McElroy Prize in administrative law and the Judge Karina Williams prize for the graduating student of Māori descent with the highest overall grades.
A member of the Law Society’s Public Law Committee, Ms Huntley is also a member of the Wellington branch Women in Law Committee and is a Wellington branch volunteer mentor.
Voluntary service as a leader in the Laulotaha Programme has involved her in tutoring Pacific Island students.
Ms Hedley has been working in the specialist health law and employment team at Buddle Findlay in Wellington since she graduated from Otago University with an LLB (Hons) and BSc in psychology in 2010. Ms Hedley is a senior solicitor with the firm.
Ms Hedley will be undertaking an LLM in global health law at Georgetown University in Washington DC.
Over the past few years, Ms Hedley says, she has become particularly interested in the intersection between human rights and health law.
“I intend to focus my elective studies on international human rights and women’s health law topics.”
The papers she plans to take as electives include:
- health and human rights;
- international trafficking in persons;
- assisted reproductive technologies and the law;
- comparative reproductive technologies and reproductive tourism; and
- sexual orientation and the law.
Of the thousands of students Emeritus Professor Peter Skegg has taught, he says he would rate Ms Hedley’s combination of academic and personal qualities to be within the top half dozen.
He supervised her honours dissertation and “I am fairly sure hers was the highest mark of any student I have supervised.” The next two included one student who went on to have a significant academic career and another who is a partner of an international law firm.
Ms Hedley won the 2014 Quentin Baxter LLM Prize in Public and International Law while undertaking postgraduate study at Victoria University. This prize is awarded for the best piece of research on public law, international law, or law relating to indigenous peoples or the laws of the Pacific.
She has also been co-teaching an Otago University course on health systems law since 2010.
The New Zealand Law Foundation Ethel Benjamin Scholarship honours Ethel Benjamin, New Zealand’s first woman lawyer, who was admitted in 1897. It is awarded annually to outstanding New Zealand women law graduates to assist with their post-graduate study, and is valued at up to $50,000 each year.