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Ethel Benjamin Scholarship winner to attend Yale Law School

13 June 2023 | news

Universities New Zealand Te Pōkai Tara is delighted to announce that Auckland lawyer Jessica Fenton has been awarded the 2023 New Zealand Law Foundation Ethel Benjamin Scholarship.

Jessica Fenton

The award was established in 1997 by the New Zealand Law Foundation to mark the centenary of the admission of Ethel Benjamin as the first woman barrister and solicitor in New Zealand, and only the second women in the British Empire to become a lawyer. For over 25 years, this award, valued at up to $30,00, has supported postgraduate research in law that aims to protect and promote the legal interests of the New Zealand public.

This year’s award recipient, Jessica Fenton, has been granted admission to Yale Law School, consistently ranked for more than 30 years as the best Law School in the United States.

Jessica graduated in 2019 with a BA and LLB from the University of Auckland - Waipapa Taumata Rau and has spent the last four years working as a Judge’s Clerk in the High Court and as a Crown prosecutor. That experience has given her useful insights into the New Zealand criminal justice system.

While this work has been inspiring, she comments, “My work is challenging and rewarding, but these experiences have also demonstrated to me the extent to which the criminal system in New Zealand is failing many of those it aims to serve, particularly Māori.”

Jessica is chiefly interested in the intersection between Indigenous, public, and criminal law. Her earlier academic work focused on the concept of relational sovereignty – a system where governance is shared between Māori and the Crown, as originally envisioned in Te Tiriti o Waitangi.

While at Yale, Jessica plans to write a research paper that takes a comparative approach to Indigenous law in the US and New Zealand.

Ultimately, Jessica’s academic and professional goal is to make a meaningful contribution to the development of criminal law and policy in New Zealand. By pursuing further studies overseas, she will have the opportunity to build a deeper and richer understanding of the law and bring new international perspectives to bear on her thinking about domestic legal challenges.

Alongside law, Fenton’s other great passion is poetry. She has been involved in the poetry community in Aotearoa extensively over the last few years and her work has appeared in several publications. Her poetry often addresses important legal issues, and she enjoys the opportunity to communicate her message in a different medium beyond the legal community.

“Many of the issues I address in my poetry have significant ramifications for our entire society, so being able to get that message out to a variety of audiences is incredibly important to me.”

The New Zealand Law Foundation Ethel Benjamin Scholarships are awarded to postgraduate women who hold a law degree and have been accepted into a postgraduate law course in either New Zealand or overseas. The award is administered by Universities New Zealand on behalf of the New Zealand Law Foundation. 


Applications for the Ethel Benjamin scholarship close on 1 March each year.

More information about the scholarship is available on the Universities New Zealand - Te Pōkai Tara website here

Information about past recipients is available at the New Zealand Law Foundation

For more information about this year’s recipient or to arrange an interview, contact or +64 27 636 5050.