New Zealand Law Society - New director of Legal Issues Centre

New director of Legal Issues Centre

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The new director of New Zealand’s only civil Legal Issues Centre believes the key to improving the civil justice system for thousands of New Zealanders will involve looking outside the legal system.

Dr Bridgette Toy-Cronin – who has a background in both legal academia and the legal profession – wants to draw on expertise in the social sciences, including psychology, sociology, public health, and economics.

She would like to see the centre become truly interdisciplinary because improving a legal system requires looking at justice and systemic change.

The centre, based in Otago University’s Law Faculty, performs independent research on how to make the legal system more accessible, affordable and efficient; while also researching how courts can get to the truth and arrive at fair and just outcomes.

Dr Toy-Cronin says legal analysis alone cannot provide all the answers. Collaboration should produce a “richness in theory and method that will push understanding forward and help us find creative solutions.”

Access to justice has become an important issue for the judiciary and legal community in recent years as the squeeze has really come on many New Zealanders’ ability to use the system effectively.

Dr Toy-Cronin says that has sparked an openness to change, and the centre will have a vital role in making sure any changes are based on sound evidence.

The centre – which focuses on civil rather than criminal cases – already has a major project underway, examining delays in the High Court and the explanations for those delays.

Dr Toy-Cronin is not only managing a team of researchers, but conducting research herself as well.

“Civil justice reform is absolutely my passion, it is hard to imagine a position that could be better suited to my interests and experience.”

She graduated LLM from Harvard Law School in 2005, where she was a Frank Knox Fellow. Her PhD was awarded last year.

University Dean of Law Professor Mark Henaghan says that when Dr Toy-Cronin completed her PhD on an area of law never researched before, she developed the skills of a social scientist to find out how the civil legal system was actually working for litigants who acted on their own behalf in court.

“The thesis was graded as exceptional and received high praise from both internal and external international examiners.”

The Legal Issues Centre was established in 2007 with a donation from Marilyn and Grant Nelson (The Gama Foundation) and the University of Otago Foundation Trust. Mr and Mrs Nelson were involved in a lengthy and expensive civil court case they ultimately won in the Court of Appeal, but also saw first-hand the negative effects of protracted litigation.

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