From the President - October 2023
Tēnā koutou katoa
I find it hard to believe, I have just past the one-year mark in this role already. It has been an absolute pleasure and privilege, to see the commitment so many barristers have to contributing to the profession.
The role of President does give you a very full perspective of all that is happening across the profession and the mahi of many. The judiciary, the bar, the firms’ and the increasing voice of our specialist legal associations Te Hunga Rōia Māori, Pacific Lawyers Association, New Zealand Asian Lawyers, and Lawyers for Climate Action NZ Inc, give us an increasingly rich view of what it means to work in the law.
I am pleased to say I do sense, a very real openness in the profession to embrace change and excitement from younger members of the profession that we are moving in the right direction. This is not to ignore the real challenges that exist for the profession. Our court system, legal aid, prison system are all struggling with the resulting pressures on our criminal, youth and family law colleagues as they work in systems that increasingly demand the same, or more, with a growing population and less resource.
For the Bar Association, our Council and all our committees, we each get to play a part in balancing the pleasure and the pressure of the law. We don’t get to experience one without the other, so the aim is to get the balance right!
The pleasure for me over the past year has been to attend ceremonies to celebrate those members of the bar who have taken up judicial office or appointment as Kings Counsel in 2023. Speaking for the Bar Association to tell and listen to the stories about the diverse pathways to these leadership roles, re-enforces for me there is no “one size” fits model to success in law or as a barrister.
Another recent highlight as President, has been attending two key Conferences on the calendar our own Bar Conference in Christchurch | Otautahi and the Te Hunga Roia Māori Conference in Kirikiriroa |Hamilton.
The Bar Conference was an excellent mix of civil and criminal advocacy topics, discussion about the future of the profession, the development of the junior bar and the sobering stories of the Afghan Judges and how the rule of law can disappear overnight in a country that had an established judicial system. The support and good will amongst our colleagues at the bar is so genuinely on show at these events, that it has kept me coming for 20 years !
Our 2023 Conference has also inspired the Bar Association to ensure that we sponsor more law students and junior lawyers to come to the Bar Conference in 2024. This year a group of NZBA barristers kindly sponsored junior lawyers to come to our conference in Christchurch. Watch out for details of how you can assist in 2024, as we create an even larger pool of donations for law students and junior barristers to attend our 2024 conference.
I first attended the Te Hunga Roia conference in 2018. This year I was delighted to see how the numbers for this conference had grown and how many young lawyers and law students attended. The spirit of this conference, the singing and kapa haka by the law students and even the judiciary, were an absolute delight.
The other pleasure has been seeing our Association supporting our joint events in 2023 with NZ Asian Lawyers, South Auckland Bar Association, Pacific Lawyers Association and Auckland Women Lawyers. These events have all been about promoting and encouraging diversity at the bar. We also have one further event planned with Te Hunga Roia to highlight pathways to the bar.
Finally, our Junior Barrister Committee has been created this year, and is fast becoming a strong voice for the Bar Association. They had a key panel discussion at our Bar Conference in September, where the various models for new barristers were discussed and the importance of collegial ties for those coming into the bar. It was heartwarming to see these new barristers realise that the bar can be a very supportive environment and senior members are so willing to mentor them.
The challenges and our advocacy
The other part of this role as President, is a little more demanding. Fortunately, this is not something you take on alone. The Vice Presidents and Council have each made very significant contributions together with our Executive Director.
The recent challenges have centred around our efforts to support the courts functioning and the judiciary, whether this is speaking out on recent criticism of judges, working on various court reform projects, Court Rules revisions, the Courts Digital Strategy for Courts and the Courts and AI protocols. These are all issues which impact how barristers can do their roles and which members tell us are important advocacy for them.
As promised, please find attached the Bar Association feedback document to the Law Society, responding to the Independent Review recommendations. This was based on feedback we received from members and our Council. We are pleased to say that the Law Society has taken this on board and has taken a cautious approach to developing the Response Document delivered to the Minister of Justice in August 2023. Please let us know if you have any feedback on our document, as this will not be the final word on reform by any means.
Senior members of our criminal bar have also raised with us concerns about that the recent judicial directions to juries in trials involving alleged sexual assault, should be the subject of further consultation with the profession. Please see attached our joint letter sent last month with the New Zealand Law Society and South Auckland Bar Association. We are continuing these discussions and hope to update you further by the end of the year.
On Legal Aid matters, we have this month had a very positive meeting with the Legal Services Commissioner, Tracey Baguley, to discuss the on-going undermining of legal aid services caused by unsustainable pay rates, administrative burdens on practitioners and the shrinking pool of providers in criminal and civil work. The Commissioner is determined to do what she can to resolve these matters within the constraints of her office. The signs for some further improvements are there, but our continued advocacy is required. I will report back on this later in the year.
Finally, the Council welcome feedback or ideas from members. We are all passionate and care about the profession, so if you have ideas about new initiatives or feedback on current ones, please let us know. If you have seen an opportunity for particular CPD or speakers, please feed this into our Education Director Lisa Mills who will be more than happy to talk to you.
Maria Dew KC