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Rare award honours outstanding Auckland Law School academic

Rare award honours outstanding Auckland Law School academic

Professor Warren Brookbanks is among just a handful of scholars to be awarded a Doctor of Laws (LLD) degree from the Auckland Law School.

He graduated in the University of Auckland’s Autumn Graduation, enthusiastically exchanging his seat on the stage for sitting in among the graduands again.

It has been more than 30 years since he had his last degree conferred (a Master of Laws with Honours) and, although he has never written a thesis, he has written a number of major books and more than 100 articles during his long tenure with the Faculty of Law.

“Becoming a Doctor of Laws is personally satisfying for me because it means that the writing I have done now counts for something in terms of a higher degree,” he says. “It brings together my life’s work so far.”

The LLD is a prestigious qualification based on published works, and Warren submitted a substantial portfolio of his writing when he successfully applied for the degree.

He has an international reputation in the fields of criminal law, mental health law and therapeutic jurisprudence and is the author, co-author or co-editor of five books, together with later editions.

Among these works are the Principles of Criminal Law, now in its fourth edition and recognised as the definitive New Zealand textbook analysis of criminal law, Mental Health Law in New Zealand, Competencies of Trial: Fitness to Plead in New Zealand, Psychiatry and the Law and Criminal Justice in New Zealand.

Through his writing, he has made a significant contribution to the understanding of these areas of law in this country.

Warren’s special interest in forensic psychiatry and the law– the area where criminal law intersects with mental health issues – dates back to the late 1970s when he worked as a probation officer for two years.

“I worked with people who had mental health issues – broken, needy people living fractured lives,” he says.

“This raw exposure to their reality impelled me to become involved, initially out of a sense of compassion but then in terms of issues of policy.

“I had to see what I could do to help them and this led to my becoming one of the first trustees of Odyssey House and to my active interest in mental health law and psychiatry and the law.”

Typically, forensic psychiatry is concerned with the evaluation of defendants in terms of unfitness to stand trial due to mental impairment, and Warren is often called upon to teach, write and talk about the subject.

He says the Mason committee of inquiry report in the late 1980s was a turning point in the field, turning what was “the Cinderella area of psychiatric practice” into a high quality and better defined area of clinical work with much greater engagement with the law.

There have been positive and important legislative changes since dedicated legislation, the Criminal Procedure (Mentally Impaired Persons) Act and the Intellectual Disability (Community Care and Rehabilitation) Act were introduced in 2003, providing a more rational process around fitness to stand, legal insanity and the way in which offenders suffering from mental illness are treated.

“We have a good system because of this novel legislation to deal with people with intellectual disability who come into the justice system – there is now a separate track for these offenders and mental impairment is generally dealt with effectively and humanely.

“Having said that, we still have far too many people in our jails that have slipped through or become unwell while in prison. This is a continuing problem and an area in which there is still a lot of work to do.”

Warren observes that some very good people are coming into the field of forensic psychiatry and he looks forward to seeing more young people pick-up the specialised area of work.

“I am one of a small number of academics in the country with a particular interest in this branch of law and practice,” he says.

“Not many lawyers are working directly on issues regarding forensic psychiatry in law and I would like more to become involved because I know how much more is still to be achieved.

“I enjoy what I do and I do what I can. Put it this way, I won’t be putting on my slippers tomorrow.”

Warren is grateful to the Faculty and the University of Auckland generally for the support he has received and the freedom to research and travel.

He is similarly grateful for the support of his very creative family - his wife Glenys and daughter Elizabeth are both graduates of Elam, and his son Stephen has a business making support structures for galleries, museums and private collectors.

As for himself? “Some years ago, when I had more free time, I made scratch-built tin toys – all kinds of interesting things. And recently I made a little toy frog for my grandson. That was fun.”

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