Abortion law reform underway with MPs set to debate the controversial issue

But all three of National's leadership contenders oppose change. Source: 1 NEWS

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Call for Law Society to start taking affirmative action over instances of lawyers’ bad behaviour

The embattled law firm Russell McVeagh has lost one of its partners, after an independent investigation upheld complaints about the man's drunken behaviour at a client function.

Yesterday the law firm's board chair Malcolm Crotty confirmed a partner - who wasn't named - had resigned.

The firm, which provides services to the Government, has been in damage control because of serious allegations of sexual misconduct by senior lawyers in 2015 and 2016.

Russell McVeagh announced in late September it was investigating a complaint that a partner had made offensive comments while he was drinking at a function with clients

The partner was banned from the firm's offices during the investigation.

After the ruling the partner apologised and resigned, but he is still able to practice law.

Former lawyer Olivia Wensley said his resignation won't be career ending.

"I know of many incidents where women have been brave, they've gone to the law firm and laid a complaint, and quite often these men will be moved on one way or another, they often go and practise at the bar," Ms Wensley said.

As the industry regulator, the Law Society needed to start taking affirmative action, Ms Wensley said.

"These men will continue behaving the way they have been because there are no repercussions.

"They are acting like badly behaved children who are not facing discipline. They're going to keep going if there's no action taken and it's up to the regulator to actually take disciplinary action," Ms Wensley said.

Law Society president Kathryn Beck was unavailable.

But a Law Society spokesperson confirmed a meeting had been scheduled with Russell McVeagh at the firm's request.

It said from time to time, law firms meet with the society to discuss reporting a case of misconduct .

Steph Dyhrberg from the Wellington Women Lawyers' Association expected that meeting will be about whether a further complaint is laid.

"If there is a complaint or a notification the standards committee decides to investigate it and if there is a finding against that person of unacceptable behaviour or misconduct of course that calls into question their ability to practice.

"So, there could be consequences for this person beyond simply losing position of prestige status and lots of money being a partner at Russell McVeagh," Ms Dyhrberg said.

Russell McVeagh has chosen not to name the partner.

Ms Dyhrberg backed that decision.

"No, I wouldn't be inclined to name him if I was the firm, it will however rapidly become apparent as it has in previous cases involving law firms and partners leaving," Ms Dyhrberg said.

Ms Dyhrberg said she hoped the resignation of the partner will mark a turning point for victims of bullying and harassment.

- By Katie Scotcher

RNZ.CO.NZ

Lawyers (file picture).
File picture. Source: Supplied

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Israeli court fines two Kiwi activists $23,600 over Lorde boycott letter

An Israeli court has ordered two Kiwi women to pay about NZ$19,000 in damages for writing a letter to Lorde asking her to not perform in Israel due to its occupation of Gaza.

Justine Sachs and Nadia Abu-Shanab appealed to the singer in an open letter in December asking her to "join the artistic boycott of Israel".

Lorde acknowledged the letter and cancelled her show days later, saying, "I have had a lot of discussions with people holding many views, and I think the right decision at this time is to cancel the show".

Three Israeli ticket holders, Shoshana Steinbach, Ayelet Wertzel and Ahuva Frogel, then filed a lawsuit in January under a law that allows civil lawsuits against anyone who calls for a boycott against Israel.

All three ticket holders had received refunds for the tickets, the Jerusalem Post reports, but despite that, they claimed their "artistic welfare" had been harmed by the cancellation - "and above all damage to their good name as Israelis and Jews".

Yesterday, NZT, Judge Mirit Fohrer agreed and imposed fines of NIS$45,000, plus NIS$11,000 - this equates to about NZ$23,600 in total.

Their lawyer, Nitsana Darshan-Leitner of the Shurat HaDin advocacy group, said the decision sends a message that "no one can boycott Israel without paying for it."

Darshan-Leitner said she intended to enforce the judgment through "international treaties" and go after the women's bank accounts, either in New Zealand or if they try to travel abroad.

The ruling is believed to be the first time the 2011 Israeli law has been applied.

Ella Yelich-O'Connor, better known as Lorde, with her six Tui Awards at the Vodafone New Zealand Music Awards 2017.
Ella Yelich-O'Connor, better known as Lorde, with her six Tui Awards at the Vodafone New Zealand Music Awards 2017. Source: Luke Appleby/1 NEWS


'Heartbreak upon heartbreak' - one Māori woman's experience of the criminal justice system

Awatea Mita's earliest memories of the police aren't favourable ones.

"My brother was beaten up on the front doorstep of our house more than once," she said. "Our mother was strip searched for no other reason that we could think of than to humiliate her."

Her mother was a filmmaker, documenting the Springbok protests.

"It was scary for us we were just children," Ms Mita said.

As an adult, she spent two years in jail for non-violent drug offending.

"Eleven months into my sentence, my 13-year-old passed away in a swimming accident at Whakatane. That was five years ago but I still carry that pain with me."

As a minimum security prisoner Ms Mita said she was eligible for three days' leave to attend her son's tangi. But the prison bungled the paperwork and she was granted just 12 hours instead. After travel time, there was little left.

"I got to spend 10 minutes with my son before we put the lid on the coffin. We took him up to the urupā, he was buried, I got to eat with my family, then back on the road to Gisborne," she said.

In total she spent just four hours with her whānau that day.

"It was just heartbreak upon heartbreak," she said.

The prison staff never apologised, she said.

Awatea now works in restorative justice, as well studying psychology, criminology and Te Reo Māori fulltime.

"As a sister and as an auntie of so many nieces and nephews whom I love," she said. "I want to dedicate the future direction of my life towards creating a better future for them."

THE COLONISATION FACTOR

New Otago University research on Māori perceptions of the criminal justice system echoes Ms Mita's story.

Of the 900 Māori surveyed, 90 per cent blame colonisation and racism for their higher rates of imprisonment.

More than half of those who responded had whānau in prison at some point. Nearly all knew someone who had been to prison.

Māori make up 15 per cent of the general population, but more than half the country's prisoners.

Over-representation of indigenous people in prisons is also seen in the United States, Canada, and Australia.

Lawyer Moana Jackson of Ngāti Kahungunu, Ngāti Porou says colonisation was the common denominator.

"The base relationship from which every other relationship flowed was the relationship with the land. You are tangata whenua because you had whenua to be tangata upon.

"If the land is the basis of a people's existence and the base of who they are, then if you take away that base you cause trauma, you cause heartache, you cause suffering.

"When that's overlaid with all of the other things like punishing people for speaking their language and so on, then that compounds the trauma," he said.

The criminal justice system was also at odds with Māori culture, Dr Jackson said.

"We had no word for guilty in our language, so if someone caused harm, rather than asking, 'do you plead guilty or not guilty', the question asked was 'do you understand the harm you have done', and 'do you know who you have harmed'," he said.

A STUBBORN ISSUE

Thirty years ago, Dr Jackson published his research on Māori and the criminal justice system, he said all that's changed, "is that the rate of Māori women in prison has risen to 64 per cent".

"[That] makes our women per capita the most imprisoned group of women in the world. I think that's a shocking, shameful figure. It's particularly shocking that's the only change since the 1980s," he said.

Dr Jackson's now updating that research, finding 80 per cent of the former Māori inmates he spoke to were placed in care as children. Of that, 80 per cent were physically and sexually abused while in care.

"I think how we're doing criminal justice in NZ is at odds with the goals we hope to achieve by having a criminal justice system," Ms Mita said.

She summarised those goals as repairing harm, reducing re-offending, and helping people with their mental health, addiction and other problems before they got into trouble.

The Government is set to consider ideas gathered at the justice summit by the end of the year.

So stories like Awatea's will not continue for another 30 years.

Mita was sent to prison for non-violent drug offences and got just ten minutes with her son when he died. Source: 1 NEWS