New Zealand Law Society - New projects show range of Foundation work

New projects show range of Foundation work

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The following summaries of six new projects funded by the Law Foundation illustrate the wide range of work that we make possible. They seek to clarify and improve law and procedure that will, among other things, help sexual violence victims and young Māori offenders navigate the courts, explore the legal status of social enterprises, and protect people from having their audio-visual images manipulated.

Assessing the new specialist courts

Child witnesses in sexual violence cases often find court procedures bewildering and difficult to navigate. A new study will assess whether evidence-gathering from children at the two pilot specialist sexual violence courts in Auckland and Whangarei has been more effective than in the regular courts. A team led by psychology Professor Fred Seymour, of the University of Auckland, will interview complainants and their caregivers about their experiences in the specialist pilot courts, then compare those with District Court trial transcripts.

The 18-month study, to start in November, will complement work by University of Canterbury Law Professor Elisabeth McDonald on comparative experiences of “acquaintance rape” victims in the specialist and regular courts. Her 18-month study, due to finish in June, examines how the pilot courts ameliorate the traumatic experience of giving evidence in such cases – experiences which, after 40 years of legal and procedural change, still cause high levels of dissatisfaction among complainants.

Social enterprises – are they charities, companies or something else?

Social enterprises are businesses that deliver social or environmental benefit, sitting somewhere between charities and companies. Examples include Pomegranate Kitchen, which makes Middle Eastern food prepared by chefs with refugee backgrounds, and Little Yellow Bird, which makes ethically-sourced uniforms and clothes.

The Akina Foundation, which is helping build the social enterprise sector, has proposed a new “social purpose company” model, but the regulator, MBIE, believes the company structure is appropriate. In response, the Akina Foundation is researching whether social enterprises have been unduly affected by operating under the Companies Act and will recommend what changes could look like if needed. The project is due for completion early next year.

Bringing back “union default”

Under current law, workers joining an industry are not automatically enrolled to a union – they must actively opt in. A Waikato University study led by Professor Mark Harcourt will look at whether reversing the position and enrolling workers into a union by default would work and be enforceable. The researchers will consult lawyers, judges and academics on the likely impact of union default on membership, and they will survey public support for the idea, a return to the pre-Employment Contracts Act position. It is understood that the Government’s Fair Pay Working Group, headed by former Prime Minister Jim Bolger, is also considering this issue, so the research will provide timely input for Government policy.

Support for Rangatahi courts

The 15 Rangatahi Courts are part of the Youth Court and are marae-based and follow Māori cultural processes. They are designed to monitor the performance and completion of family group conference plans by young people who have admitted charges. The Henwood Trust’s research project will identify best practice to assist community-based providers to develop tikanga-based interventions that effectively address the underlying risks and needs of the young people, and create pathways to jobs or training. The research team, led by Jennifer George, will interview Rangatahi judges, psychologists, iwi representatives and NGOs.

Reconciling Treaty claims

Former Minister of Treaty Negotiations Christopher Finlayson QC is writing a book on Crown/Māori relationships between 2008 and 2017. It will cover themes in the settlement process including foreshore and seabed; rivers, lakes and other land; history and apology; financial and cultural redress; and post-settlement issues.

Countering image manipulation

New technology allows people’s audio-visual selves to be manipulated in ever more challenging ways. One example is the reappearance of actor Peter Cushing in the recent movie Star Wars: Rogue One, more than 20 years after his death. A research project, led by lawyer and legal researcher Tom Barraclough, will consider the social, legal and policy issues, aiming to produce a report to guide technology developers, consumers and policy-makers. Tom’s work will be guided by Dr Colin Gavaghan, head of the Law Foundation’s Centre for Emerging Technologies at Otago University.

Details of these, and a full history of projects funded by the Law Foundation, can be found on our website:

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

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