Speech to Launch Legal Education Project

E tele taeao, ma e eseese foi taeao, ae e iai foi taeao fa’apitoa, ma o taeao le aumaua. Atonu e iai la le aso ma le fa’amoemoe. O le taeao lenei aua o le a sii ai i luga le taua o le sao o Tagata Atumotu o le Pasefika poo Tagata o le Moana-niu-a-Kiwa i Aotearoa Niu Sila.
There are many special events in our history. All are different and have special meaning or distinctive characteristics. There are also significant occasions that have the potential for long lasting impact  and ripple effects sustaining  throughout time and history. I feel a sense that today’s event is such an occasion. It feels that today’s event has the potential to lift the spirits and hearts of Pacific people of Aotearoa New Zealand – and to recognise their mana and worth in our modern society.
Pacific greetings
It is an honour to be at the launch of this very significant project with the goal to improve legal education to increase Pasifika in the legal profession and facilitate Pasifika legal practitioners as profession leaders.
This record will ensure the legal profession reflects the community it serves, and it is something I support wholeheartedly as Minister for Pacific Peoples, Courts, and Associate Minister of Justice.
I would like to take this opportunity to acknowledge the Hon Luamanuvao Dame Winnie Laban, Assistant Vice-Chancellor (Pasifika) at Victoria University of Wellington, who is leading this very insightful and collaborative project – exploring the themes of Equity, Belonging, and Authority – How can Law, Policy and Practice support Pasifika in Aotearoa New Zealand – Improving Pasifika Legal Education.
Additionally, I want to acknowledge Borrin Foundation, NZ Law Schools and Universities, members of the Judiciary, Law Profession, Academia, Foreign Office Dignitaries, Pacific communities, and Law Students, for their respective tireless efforts/tautua, research, insights and support for this project.
And of course, I would like to congratulate Emeritus Professor Tony Angelo QC, the editor of Introducing legal systems of the Pacific – Sixteen Gems, which is being launched at today’s event by the Hon Luamanuvao Dame Winnie Laban.
This book not only provides an overview of the legal systems of a selection of Pacific Island countries, but it also gives a general outline of each system, with emphasis on particularities and matters of current special interest, such as climate change and the environment.
I understand that this project would not be possible without the support and resourcing provided by the Borrin Foundation.
This foundation supports legal research, education and scholarship that contributes to its vision for Aotearoa New Zealand – a Zealand where everyone understands the role and value of the law, and everyone enjoys the protection and opportunity that it provides.
It sees the law as essential to a flourishing society – one that is just, inclusive, tolerant and free, and this project most certainly aligns with these objectives.
Intensive research contributing to the project is Pasifika-led and done in partnership with Law Schools in all New Zealand universities, while the two advisory groups consist of academics and practitioners and Pasifika Law students’ representatives.
The project also closely aligns with the work of New Zealand’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade who are working in collaboration with our own Ministry of Justice with the support of our Chief Justice to strengthen judiciaries in the Pacific, including by improving access to justice and judicial independence in the Pacific.
The million-dollar question being explored is:
Why is there only three percent Pasifika in Law Profession and underrepresentation in the Judiciary?
Why is Pasifika consistently underrepresented in the legal profession?  
Pacific people comprise only three percent of all lawyers in New Zealand, while there are a small handful of Pasifika judges in the country (none above the level of District Court Judge) and an even smaller number of Pasifika legal academics, and no Pasifika QCs.  This Government recently appointed the first Supreme Court Judge of Maori heritage in our history – since the signing of Tiriti o Waitangi.
Justice Joe Williams who is not only one of New Zealand’s brilliant legal minds, but equally brilliant is his strong Te Reo Maori skills and Te Ao Maori tikanga cultural intelligence.
Yet, at the same time, Pacific people, along with Māori, are over-represented in the criminal justice system. While the statistics are worse for Māori, Pacific people represent 12 percent of the prison population compared to seven percent of the general population. 
These statistics reflect and compound the poor socio-economic positions occupied by Pacific peoples in New Zealand.
Among other relevant statistics, Pasifika are over-represented in lower socio-economic and rental housing and have the lowest household net worth, at $12,000 in June 2015. 
More specifically in education, only 30 percent of Pasifika year 13s gained university entrance in 2017, the lowest rate of any ethnic group. Nine percent of Pasifika respondents indicated that their highest qualification was a Bachelor’s degree or higher in 2016, compared to the national average of 25 percent; and 30 percent of Pasifika were recorded with no qualification, compared to 20 percent of the general population.
For Law, national statistics show the qualification completion rate has been between 40-50 percent in the period between 2009-2018.
All of these damning statistics point to inequities and barriers within our current system that does not recognise the real value and worth of Maori and Pasifika people’s contribution to our communities and New Zealand society generally.  
The value and worth of Maori and Pasifika’s contributions to Aotearoa New Zealand underpins our Justice Reform work that we started to implement when we became Government in 2017 with the -……
We are committed to moving away from the punitive legal system of the past several decades, and to move towards greater rehabilitation and the recognition of the worth of a person – despite their frailties and weaknesses;
We recognise that those offenders who have mental health issues, drug addiction, anger management issues, not only require to reconcile with their offence and the victims of their crime, but they will also require specialist rehabilitative care, in order for them to set a course of restoring their mana – and being supported to do right by their victims and to contribute in a more positive way to their families and communities.
The use of Te Ao Marama principles “of moving out of darkness towards the light” to guide this approach, is further recognition of the worth of Maori and Pasifika principles of manaakitanga,  whanaugatanga, kaitiakitanga, aroahatanga.. and as I frequently say ..all the tangas
So we have to collectively increase the number of Pasifika students in Law programmes, and ensure they are supported to complete their qualifications will provide a pathway to greater economic prosperity for Pacific peoples.
In addition, removing the barriers for Pasifika to the legal profession will help increase the pool of Pacific lawyers, ensuring the legal profession reflects the community it serves, thereby increasing trust in the legal system.
New Zealand’s law schools have an important role to play in this pipeline into the profession, and the Deans of all Aotearoa New Zealand’s Law Schools have expressed their support for this project.
In addition, tackling these challenges requires a multidisciplinary approach to consider the intersection of the wider socio-economic factors with the legal education system and profession.
This multi-disciplinary approach will be coordinated through a collaborative research hub connecting experts with students, graduates and legal practitioners.
This research also addresses the wider context of Equity, Belonging and Authority – How can Law, Policy and Practice support Pasifika in Aotearoa New Zealand – Improving Pasifika Legal Education 
Collaboration is key – and this project would provide an effective way to bring together a cross-section of leaders in the Pasifika legal community, as well as the broader Pasifika community to contribute to the research to identify the challenges and solutions.
The collaborative research hub will create a platform and provide a focal point for multi-disciplinary talanoa among leaders including policymakers, educators, researchers, students, legal professionals and community groups with an interest in Pasifika from across Aotearoa New Zealand.
By centring Pasifika voices in these conversations, this model would provide an approach to solutions for Pasifika with Pacific people at the heart.
The research hub would focus on the themes of Equality, Belonging and Authority / Power. The impact of these themes is of profound concern for Pasifika – a vibrant and growing part of the New Zealand population.
Therefore, addressing these issues through the law is essential to ensuring a just, inclusive, tolerant and free society for all New Zealanders.
Research using this model would look to seriously address the issues of inequity and the barriers to Pacific people succeeding in law school and taking up a career in the legal profession.
The provision of legal services is improved where lawyers understand and respect their clients’ socio-cultural context and circumstances.
This leads to greater trust and confidence in the system.
The lived experience of Pasifika people in our legal system is marred by racism, discrimination and unequal treatment by law enforcement and the justice system.
This project is significant for the empowerment, inclusion and advancement of Pacific Aotearoa, as well as the improvement and diversification of the legal system in New Zealand.
My sincere congratulations to everyone involved in this project.
Malo le tauivi. Malo le finau i mea lelei. Well done to you all. Kia kaha and stay safe.

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