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New NZ law book shows how to judge like a feminist

New NZ law book shows how to judge like a feminist

A new book, co-edited by two University of Canterbury law academics, gives a new perspective on New Zealand law and challenges the concept of judicial neutrality by offering feminist and mana wahine judgments on key cases.

Feminist Judgments of Aotearoa New Zealand - Te Rino: A Two-Stranded Rope (576pp, Hart Publishing, 2017), co-edited by University of Canterbury School of Law academics Professor Elisabeth McDonald and Dr Rhonda Powell, Māmari Stephens of Victoria University, and Professor Rosemary Hunter of Queen Mary, University of London, asks how key New Zealand judgments might read if they were written by a feminist judge.

Uniquely, this feminist judgments collection includes a set of legal cases rewritten using an approach based on mana wahine, the use of Māori values that recognise the complex realities of Māori women's lives. These feminist and mana wahine judgments open possibilities of more inclusive judicial decision-making for the future, the editors say.

“The challenge for the participating feminist judges was to reimagine a decision from a feminist or mana wahine perspective while operating within the social and legal context that existed at the time. The judgments are a plausible and powerful critical commentary that demonstrate that such a decision-making approach would have been possible,” Professor McDonald says.

The rewritten judgments cover a range of legal areas, not just the traditional “women’s” areas such as criminal law and family law. The cases also cover environmental law, health law, equity, land law, company law and public law.

“There’s often more than one solution that can be reached through the law, and more than one way to get there and judges make choices about the approaches they take. We have shown how judges could be making different choices and delivering better on equality,” Dr Powell says.

“This project has huge potential to affect the ability of the judicial system to deliver justice for New Zealanders. Although we focused on women and Māori women, the lessons learnt are able to be generalised to other disadvantaged groups.”

The book is the result of the two-year New Zealand Law Foundation-funded Feminist Judgments Project Aotearoa, which involved a wide range of New Zealand academics and practising lawyers, including former Attorney General Margaret Wilson, and – for what is believed to be the first time – involved academics from every New Zealand law school, with nearly 60 participants.

Professor McDonald and Dr Powell were writers as well as editors, while UC’s Dean of Law Professor Ursula Cheer, Professor Annick Masselot and Senior Lecturer Natalie Baird all contributed to Feminist Judgments. A number of UC graduates also participated, including recent PhD graduate Dr Cassandra Mudgway and recent LLB graduate Frances Gourlay.

Professor McDonald and Dr Powell believe the new book will inspire law students and be a source of lesson material for academics teaching about gender issues across disciplines, as well as those working and teaching in New Zealand Law.

Feminist Judgments of Aotearoa New Zealand is being launched at the Law and Society Association of Australia and New Zealand Conference on Friday 8 December, at the Ōtākou Marae, Otago Peninsula.

Quotes about the book

“These judgments, and the commentaries that precede them, are a powerful means of teaching us to see a legal case through a different lens, helpful both in the classroom and for established researchers, practitioners, and members of the judiciary.”

Bridgette Toy-Cronin, New Zealand Women’s Law Journal

Feminist Judgments Aotearoa is a fascinating, sometimes confronting, but ultimately extremely rewarding read which challenges us to see other legitimate possibilities in the law.”

Caroline Hickman, LawTalk, New Zealand Law Society magazine

About feminist judging

Feminist judging is an emerging critical legal approach that works within the confines of common law legal method to challenge the myth of judicial neutrality and illustrate how the personal experiences and perspectives of judges may influence the reasoning and outcome of their decisions.


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