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Ethel Benjamin scholarships for outstanding women lawyers announced

23 May 2018 | media

Three remarkable women have this year received New Zealand Law Foundation Ethel Benjamin scholarships for outstanding women lawyers.

The awards honour Ethel Benjamin, New Zealand’s first woman barrister and solicitor, who was admitted to the bar in 1897. For 20 years, through these awards, the Law Foundation has supported postgraduate research in law that will protect and promote the legal interests of the New Zealand public.

This year’s recipients are Rez Gardi (to support an LLM at Harvard Law School), Taylor Burgess (LLM at Yale) and Kate Stone (LLM at Columbia).

Rez Gardi was born in a refugee camp in Pakistan to Kurdish activist parents. Her experiences there have shaped her world view, leading to her determination to make a difference.

“The circumstances I was born into have shaped my interest in peace, security, and humanitarian action,” says Rez. “I learnt about injustice and the denial of human rights long before I knew what those concepts meant. This instilled in me the importance of standing up for what is right, even when your life is on the line. As the daughter of human rights activists, an engrained passion for equality and justice inspired me to pursue a career in law. I wanted to understand the power of law to create positive change.”

Rez studied at the University of Auckland, gaining a BA (double majoring in International Relations/Political Studies and Criminology) and a Bachelor of Laws (Hons), and is currently working as a legal officer with the Human Rights Commission. Her advocacy work with national and international groups over the past three years led to her being named Young New Zealander of the Year in 2017, as well as receiving a Fulbright Graduate Award among a raft of other scholarships and awards.

“Today, there are approximately 65 million forcibly displaced persons, including over 21 million refugees. Responding to displacement around the world is a global responsibility,” she says.

“By pursing a Master of Laws focusing on the interface between refugee law and human rights, I will be better equipped to play a part in making a difference as an advocate in this global crisis, as well as sharing my learnings with others to ensure that we all do our part.”

Taylor Burgess plans to pursue her interest in public health and human rights law in her LLM studies. She graduated from the University of Auckland with a BA (Philosophy) and a Bachelor of Laws (Honours), graduating top of her cohort. She is currently an Assistant Crown Counsel in the Crown Law Office, acting for the Ministry of Health and Oranga Tamariki on public, administrative and constitutional law matters.

“I plan to write an independent research paper that examines how the New Zealand Courts should strike a balance between government powers and individual rights in the contemporary public health environment,” says Taylor.

Recent debate and legal challenges on public health issues such as the right of government to intervene in matters such as the fluoridation of drinking water supply have highlighted the importance of this field of study.

“On the one hand, the government is entrusted with intrusive powers to act in the collective interests of the populace… On the other hand, public health powers intrude into the private sphere of an individual and engage the fundamental values of privacy, personal autonomy and bodily integrity,” she says

“It is the perfect time to examine the Courts’ role in striking this balance and to develop a robust Bill of Rights framework for the future scrutiny of public health decision-making in New Zealand.”

Kate Stone gained a BA (Hons) in political science, before completing her LLB at Victoria University of Wellington, then an LLM (Hons), specialising in human rights law, from Auckland University. She has also been awarded a Fulbright General Graduate Award to help fund her LLM at Columbia University.

She intends to study law and social change, focusing on criminal justice system reform. Currently working as Crown Counsel for the constitutional and human rights, and Treaty of Waitangi and Māori legal issues teams in the Crown law Office, Kate has advocated extensively for criminal justice reform, including co-founding the NGO JustSpeak.

“I intend to study the conditions necessary to support civil society to organise and mobilise in pursuit of social change and the effective use of legal tools in this area,” she says.

“The heritage of the civil rights and other social justice movements in the US provide a unique environment within which to develop my understanding of the opportunities for, and barriers to, using the law as a tool for social change.”

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 NZLF Ethel Benjamin scholarship close on 1 March each year. Information about the scholarship is available at