Claire Rees

It was a privilege to be able to attend the International Association of Women Judges Biennial Conference this year in Auckland. I would like to thank the IAWJ, the Hon. Justice Susan Glazebrook and the Michael and Suzanne Borrin Foundation for this opportunity. It was incredibly inspiring to listen to a range of influential judges from around the world on many different topical issues.

One of the main things that I took away from the conference was a passion to be involved in meaningful legal work that will better our society. Since beginning law school, I have thoroughly enjoyed studying a range of different areas of the law but can sometimes feel removed from the practical application of the law and how it impacts upon different groups. When listening to each of the speakers, I could see the personal connection and passion they had for each of the topics that their career was devoted to, and the impact that their work was having on many different groups.

While I was privileged to have been able to listen to many different speakers throughout the weekend discuss a vast diversity of topics, I was left feeling very inspired after the session on Climate Change. The Hon. Mary Robinson expressed the current challenges that we face surrounding climate change litigation and urged the need to humanise climate change. Mary Robinson expressed how the law helps us to understanding the injustices created by climate change; racial injustices as impacts of climate change are felt more severely in vulnerable parts of the world, intergenerational injustices for future generations impacted, gender injustices, and injustices to nature herself. However, she also illustrated that the COVID-19 pandemic has shown that there is a drive and ambition of countries to take drastic measures and act in harmony where pressing issues arise, such as climate change. Globally, we have woken up to common humanity and international connections, and that collective human behaviour matters.

The Hon. Christian Whata’s talk on “Māori and the Environment” was very memorable as it illustrated the difficult tension between the Western legal system and Tikanga Māori within New Zealand in relation to the law governing the environment. In particular, he discussed the importance of ecological interconnectedness within Tikanga Māori, in particular with the cultural, spiritual, historical and traditional association to the environment. It was interesting to understand the problems currently facing New Zealand Courts surrounding problems of interpretation, and the understanding of other legal systems and what is important to them.

Overall, I am humbled to have had such an enriching experience. I am incredibly appreciative of the friendliness and support I felt while at the conference from some of New Zealand’s top legal minds, despite being a student early on in my legal degree. I have returned to law school with a greater appreciation for the legal profession and it’s ability to effect change, and I feel motivated to work hard to be able to do the same one day.