New Zealand Law Society - Calling legal scholars: apply now for awards

Calling legal scholars: apply now for awards

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Every year at about this time I like to remind legal researchers to get their applications in for the latest round of New Zealand Law Foundation scholarships. Closing dates for most of our awards are coming up soon.

The Foundation’s purpose is to support new, independent legal thinking, and we do that primarily through our grants but also through our scholarships. We are New Zealand’s major funder of legal research. Our awards are tailored to provide financial support options for lawyers and legal academics at all levels.

Each year we attract good numbers of high-quality applications, enabling the Foundation to maintain its excellent record of contributing to legal and public policy development through our research outputs. We want this to continue.

Some scholarships, such as New Zealand’s premier legal award, the International Research Fellowship (IRF), help experienced legal experts carry out major original research projects. The award, worth $125,000 annually, allows recipients to carry out extended research in New Zealand and overseas. IRF applications close on 1 September.

Following are some brief reports on projects undertaken by recent winners, along with information on our other awards.

Alison Douglass, 2014 winner: Updating Mental Capacity Law and Practice

Dunedin barrister Alison Douglass has reviewed New Zealand’s adult guardianship law concerning people with impaired mental capacity for decision-making, for reasons such as dementia, learning disabilities, mental illness or acquired brain injury.

Alison’s report is in its final stages and will be published this month. A clinical and legal “toolkit” for health practitioners on assessing capacity, co-authored with a psychiatrist and ethicist, will be available separately.

Alison says the Protection of Personal and Property Rights Act needs updating in line with the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, taking into account New Zealand’s cultural dimension. The English Mental Capacity Act 2005 provides an “excellent model” based on concepts of capacity and best interest.

She says there are two significant regulatory gaps in relevant New Zealand law – providing “liberty safeguards” for people who lack capacity to consent or who are otherwise confined or detained and are not subject to mental health legislation; and where research is carried out on people who are unable to consent.

“My report will provide very achievable goals for updating our law in line with international developments in mental capacity law and practice. The health and disability sector is greatly interested in making improvements, and New Zealand is now lagging behind comparable jurisdictions in this area.

“The Law Foundation fellowship has been a fantastic opportunity for me to take time out of legal practice and undertake this research project. It has allowed me to spend three months in the UK meeting and interviewing key players in this area of law,” Alison says.

Ceri Warnock, 2013 winner: The New Zealand Environment Court: Importance and Limitations

Associate Professor Ceri Warnock, from Otago Law Faculty, has carried out the first comprehensive, objective legal analysis of the New Zealand Environment Court in its 36-year history. Her research considered the “seeming paradox” between the court’s important role in environmental law development and limitations to its work.

She says the court has been criticised by government and academics, and has had a diminished role in major planning tasks such as the Christchurch rebuild and the Auckland unitary plan. The Resource Management Amendment Bill now before Parliament proposes replacing some of the court’s functions with ad hoc politically appointed bodies or ministerial decision-making.

“My work has developed a pragmatic but principled theory for environmental adjudication premised on four factors: the distinct characteristics of environmental disputes, commensurate challenges for dispute resolution, the resulting development of environmental law principles, and pragmatic and justified procedural responses,” Ceri says.

Her findings have been published in articles and journals, and she plans to publish a comprehensive monograph next year.

“The International Research Fellowship enabled me to work with some of the best legal academics in the world and has given me the luxury of time to think deeply about the project. I’ve made connections that have led to international collaborative projects and, being recognised as an expert in environmental adjudication, has led to my involvement in the International Forum for Environment Judges, that brings together environmental adjudicators from around the world,” she says.

Campbell McLachlan, 2010 winner: Foreign Relations Law

The rapid pace of globalisation is producing an exploding range of practical legal problems. Victoria University Professor Campbell McLachlan’s study is being acclaimed as filling a major gap in international legal literature on the subject.

Foreign Relations Law, published in 2014, is the first comprehensive study of foreign relations law in Anglo-Commonwealth systems in three decades. It was eagerly anticipated in legal circles and, as Attorney-General Chris Finlayson predicted when he launched it, the work is now being used locally and internationally.

The book is receiving accolades in influential legal circles. Among several positive reviews, one from leading expert Sir Franklin Berman (formerly legal adviser to the UK Foreign Office) described the work as definitive and authoritative.

Other favourable notices have appeared in the Law Quarterly Review, the British Yearbook of International Law (which called it “a Magisterial Analysis,”) Netherlands International Law Review, France’s Review Generale de Droit International Public, the Commonwealth Law Bulletin and the Asian Journal of International Law.

The book targets a relatively small but highly influential group of people including foreign ministry legal advisors, judges of final courts of appeal, attorneys-general and ministers of justice involved in preparing legislation.

It is already being referenced in argument in major cases before the English courts, including in Belhaj vs Straw, where a former Libyan Opposition MP accuses the British intelligence service of involvement with his interrogation and torture.

Campbell says he wrote the book as a modern successor to the last major study on the subject, F A Mann’s 1986 work Foreign Affairs in English Courts.

“It became increasingly apparent that this was a real gap. The book sits at the intersection of three different areas of law: constitutional, public international and private international law. There have been big issues around the activities of armed forces in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well the flow-on impacts of Guantanamo Bay detainees, that has provoked a lot of litigation.

“There are also bigger trends to which New Zealand is a party. Globalisation has compelled states to act beyond their borders to deal with problems. Examples include competition law – the reach of the Commerce Act, and companies trading into New Zealand – as well as the extension of criminal law statutes to deal with international crimes, and the Ahmed Zaoui case.”

The Foundation’s 2010 International Research Fellowship allowed Campbell to research and write the book in New Zealand and as a Visiting Fellow at All Souls College Oxford. He is presenting ideas from it to seminars around the world and will next year offer a Masters course on the topic at Victoria University’s Law School.

“Big projects like this are not possible without financial and institutional support that accepts that such projects are worthwhile,” he says. “I want to thank the Foundation for its far-sighted vision in supporting this project.”

Other awards and their deadlines

Cleary Memorial Prize

The Cleary Prize celebrates young lawyers who show the most promise of service to and through the profession. The $5,000 prize is open to recently-admitted barristers and/or solicitors.

First awarded in 1964, the Cleary Prize honours Sir Timothy Cleary, former Law Society President and Court of Appeal Judge. It has had many distinguished former winners, including Justices Baragwanath, Tipping, and Wild.

Nominations for the Cleary Memorial Prize close on 30 September.

Shadow Report Award

In 2011 the Foundation launched a new award to help human rights advocates research and report on New Zealand’s compliance with its international treaty obligations.

The New Zealand Law Foundation Shadow Report Award is worth up to $10,000 each year to help non-government organisations prepare these reports.

Applications are open to individuals or any body or organisation active in human rights in New Zealand. Applications close on 1 August.

NZLF Doctoral Scholarship

This scholarship has been re-launched in 2016 to encourage postgraduate study and research in law for the benefit of New Zealand. The scholarship provides an additional $10,000 each year for up to three years as a ‘top up’ to the award of an NZ University PhD Scholarship.

Applications are accepted twice a year with the next deadline being 31 August.

Ethel Benjamin Scholarship

This scholarship for women was established in 1997 to mark the centenary of the admission of Ethel Benjamin as the first woman barrister and solicitor in New Zealand, and has so far helped 36 young women lawyers achieve their postgraduate study goals.

It is awarded for research that protects and promotes the public interest in New Zealand legal matters, and is valued at $50,000 for overseas university study or $20,000 for study at a New Zealand university. Applications close on 1 March.

Distinguished Visiting Fellowship

Now in its 16th year, this award enables university law schools in turn to host an eminent international legal scholar for up to two months each year. Each Fellow delivers public lectures and seminars at the host university and all other law schools. Selection is by invitation from the law school hosting the Distinguished Visiting Fellow, in conjunction with the Law Foundation. The Fellowship is worth $40,000 annually.

The 2016 Distinguished Visiting Fellow is Professor Graham Virgo, Professor of English Private Law, University of Cambridge, who arrives at the end of July.

Check the scholarships page on the Law Foundation’s website for full details and feel free to contact me at if you would like a preliminary chat about whether you might be eligible for any of our awards.

Lynda Hagen is the Executive Director of the New Zealand Law Foundation.

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