In my application seeking support to attend the conference, I said that it would be the perfect opportunity for me to whaowhia toku kete matauranga; to learn from mana wahine and legal champions about how best to empower those who come before the courts and to consider tangible ways to continue to feminise and humanise the law. That was certainly the experience I had.
I felt very privileged as a student to be sat alongside those whose judgments and papers I have studied. The warmth of the judges and their genuine interest in our views was humbling. I would like to extend a heartfelt thank you to the conference organisers, the Borrin Foundation who kindly supported the scholarship participants, and Ngāti Whātua Ōrākei for their manaakitanga in welcoming us onto their marae on Day 1 (and providing such an epic spread for lunch!)
Though at times overwhelming, the diversity of topics and speakers at the conference opened my eyes to the extent and depth of challenges facing women judges across the world today, both legal and non-legal. On one hand, judges spoke about difficulties they faced in everyday practice. On the other, the judges were challenged by panellists to continue on their own journeys of improvement and development. The Inspiring Young People panel was a highpoint in this respect. Regarding technological challenges, it was interesting hearing about developments such as in the Cloud Court in China. It was good to also see movement in discussions towards more holistic approaches to addressing offending. For example, the Samoa Alcohol and Drug Court not only focuses on rehabilitation of offenders but also how the community contributes to offenders’ reintegration.
Another area I was particularly engaged by were the indigenous issues the conference highlighted. This allowed me to gain a deeper understanding of the opportunities for courts to interact with and integrate indigenous practices. We were lucky to be immersed in korero around these issues early on the marae, which set the scene for the many learnings to be gained on how Māori perspectives should be incorporated into New Zealand’s justice system. Having so many senior judges in one place was a good opportunity to reflect on the history and development of our courts. As put by Hon. Sharon Hawke, “without tikanga, there would be no relationship with the Crown”. It is my belief that without greater recognition of tikanga by the courts, the partnership founded by Te Tiriti (Treaty of Waitangi) between Māori and tangata Tiriti is not honoured and instead undermined.
Overall, I think the conference could be embodied by Siouxsie Wiles’ quotes at the beginning and the end of her conversation about Covid-19 with Justice Glazebrook; – she began admitting that “it’s all quite bleak” but finally concluded that she held “relative optimism”. Throughout the conference we heard a thought-provoking mix of presentations; from work already being done to improve human rights and women’s experiences in justice systems across the world to presentations on where justice systems are letting people down. I left the conference feeling optimistic but aware that we have a long way to go, and a permanent gender lens is required, to address the issues raised. My thanks again for allowing me to participate in your conference and for the support, both financially and in the manaakitanga, that enabled that to happen.