Barack Obama once said that change is always a work in progress. It takes longer than we think, and the path is never a straight line. We zig and zag and sometimes move forward and other times move a step back. In the past few months there have undoubtedly been steps forward.
It was an honour to stand with Chief District Court Judge Heemi Taumaunu on a cold crisp morning in Tūranga-nui-a-Kiwa | Gisborne last month in support of his announcement that our District Court would be the next court – after Kirikiriroa | Hamilton – to roll out Te Ao Mārama in the District Courts. Following that announcement, I sat down with the Chief Judge to understand more about what it means for justice delivery and how the legal profession can support the transformative change. You can read my interview in this magazine.
Taonga in our courts
In the same week, the Chief Justice approved the wearing of taonga in place of the traditional necktie for all court lawyers and staff. This was a change I sought following a LinkedIn post I wrote about a young Gisborne lawyer who had sought leave to wear his taonga for just one day. It has been heartening to see all the photos which have been sent to me by lawyers from around the country proudly wearing their taonga and feeling like they can bring their true selves to work.
Te Ao Māori in our law schools
Last month the New Zealand Council of Legal Education resolved that Te Ao Māori concepts, particularly tikanga Māori, would be taught in each of the core law subjects within the Bachelor of Laws and Bachelor of Laws with Honours degree. The Council will shortly commence consultation with stakeholders and relevant Government departments on transitional arrangements and timeframes.
This historic resolution has come just weeks after I attended the Otago Faculty of Law F.W. Guest Memorial Lecture by Justice Joe Williams who spoke movingly and with great passion about decolonising the law, the role our law schools must play and how each of us can contribute to thinking differently.
Progress in our profession
In the past three months the Law Society has made real progress on the priorities that I outlined in the last edition of LawTalk. Nearly 5,000 lawyers joined us for the free webinar on the amendments to the Conduct and Client Care Rules which come into force on 1 July. We have released draft guidance to support the profession to understand the new obligations and I would encourage you to read those and provide feedback. It will be through collective commitment that we will make the change needed to make this a safer, healthier, and more inclusive profession.
It will be through collective commitment that we will make the change needed to make this a safer, healthier, and more inclusive profession
At a system level we have had more than 600 submissions on the draft Terms of Reference for the upcoming Independent Review into the statutory framework for legal services. This will be an ambitious review, with the potential to result in significant change to how legal services are regulated, including the conduct of lawyers, and how the profession is represented. The next step now is to finalise the Terms of Reference and appoint an independent reviewer.
Access to Justice is another priority area for me in my final year as President. I recently represented the Law Society alongside Community Law and others at the official launch of Te Ara Ture, a new digital tool to connect lawyers wanting to do pro bono work with those most in need of legal help.
Wellbeing in the profession
The wellbeing of the profession remains a constant focus for me. In May I spoke at a session on ‘Looking after ourselves’ at the District Court Jury Trial Judges’ Triennial Conference in Wellington. I shared my concerns about the wellbeing of lawyers, particularly those doing legal aid work, and the scheduling pressures we are under in the courts. I highlighted what the Law Society is doing to support lawyers through initiatives such as the Legal Community Counselling Service, the LawCare freephone line and National Friends Panel. But for the most part, I took the judges on a journey of a ‘day in the life’ of court lawyers in 2021. For many members of the judiciary, it was an eye opener.
Building on the communication channels created in response to Covid, we must keep the dialogue going between the legal profession and the judiciary to work together and find solutions. We all have the shared objective of access to justice, but it cannot be at the cost of our health and well-being.
What this year has shown me already is our ability to move forward, even when unprecedented events are thrust upon us. Despite Covid, we have been able to take the lead and implement reforms, many of which will have a lasting impact on our profession and Aotearoa’s legal system.
I want to end by thanking the outgoing Chief Executive of the Law Society, Helen Morgan-Banda, who has led the Law Society through a period of unprecedented change, modernising its structure, ways of working and how we engage with not only lawyers but others across the legal landscape. She has worked tirelessly through crises no one could have predicted and leaves the Law Society in a much stronger position.