The Wellington-based Whaia Legal associate and former Supreme Court lawyer is one of two outstanding women in legal research who recently won the New Zealand Law Foundation’s Ethel Benjamin Fellowships, and she plans to do a master’s degree in law on the subject from Harvard University. .
She said New Zealand courts were increasingly willing to recognize and apply Maori tikanga, both as an independent source of law and as part of our common law values.
“At the same time, the constitutional significance of the Treaty of Waitangi continues to grow, with major legal implications for the Crown and for Maori.
“This period of transformation raises a number of important questions for Maori and for the nation.
“How can our constitutional arrangements create space for Indigenous self-determination, while at the same time developing a legal system that draws on both English and Maori traditions?
“How can the integrity of tikanga be maintained if it has to be interpreted and enforced by existing, largely non-Maori institutions?”
She said the questions will be central to her Harvard study project.
Thereafter, she intends to return to New Zealand to continue her work as a Maori client advocate in private practice.
“Additionally, a postgraduate qualification will enable me to contribute in other ways, through teaching and lecturing, as well as contributing to important policy and legislative reform projects.”
Charlotte Agnew-Harrington, from Auckland, has also been awarded an Ethel Benjamin Fellowship and will explore ways to use litigation to address bias in public decision-making, while studying for an LLM in North America.
Ethel Benjamin, a former pioneer from Otago, was the first woman to be admitted to law school in New Zealand and Australia.
After graduating from Otago in 1897, she established a successful law practice and was the first woman to appear as a barrister in all British Empire cases.