St Thomas More and advocating the "Strangers' Case": Modern day "mountainish inhumanity" towards refugees 26 October 2017 - By Rodney Harrison QC

St Thomas More and advocating the "Strangers' Case": Modern day "mountainish inhumanity" towards refugees

26 October 2017 - By Rodney Harrison QC


This is a slightly expanded version of an after-dinner address Dr Rodney Harrison QC delivered to the annual Auckland Saint Thomas More Dinner on 18 October 2017.

Easily my favourite piece of Harrison family history concerns my paternal great-grandfather. He was a French merchant seaman whose sea-faring began when press-ganged off a Normandy beach as a youth, into the French Navy. Arrived at the Port of Auckland, he met and fell in love with an Irish lass, my paternal great-grandmother.  Outward bound, to avoid detection he waited until his ship was abeam of Tiri Tiri Island at night. He slipped over the side; swam to Tiri; and in turn to the mainland.  He settled with his bride on the banks of the Kaipara Harbour.  His handy swimming prowess was legendary, until gangrene late in life saw the removal of both his legs just below the knee.  

My great-grandfather’s French name, François Le Hérisson – the French for hedgehog – was soon anglicised to “Frank Harrison”.  The Harrison surname is therefore not the Scottish patronym that you might expect. And you could say that I hail from a boat person.  

I take pride in my illegal overstayer heritage.  I venture to suggest that not a few of us here tonight are descended from refugees or overstayers.  But I cannot help reflect on the fact that, were my great-grandfather to attempt the same leap of love today, he would confront a hostile immigration system and administrators, wholly without sentimentality, gallic or otherwise.   

To set the scene for what follows, I need briefly to outline the position of refugees under New Zealand law.  

There are basically two categories of refugees: quota refugees, and spontaneous refugees or asylum seekers.  Quota refugees are pre-approved and issued with visas before they get to New Zealand.  They therefore do not have to go through the refugee status determination process for which the Immigration Act 2009 provides.  The number of quota refugees which we are prepared to admit in any one year is fixed, as the term implies.  It currently stands at 750 refugees per year.  More of this later.  

Spontaneous refugees or asylum seekers have to actually make it to New Zealand before claiming refugee status.  Today, with intensive screening of inbound travellers and New Zealand’s remoteness, getting here in order to make a refugee status claim is no mean accomplishment in itself.  The Immigration Act provides for a two stage refugee status determination process, first at Refugee Status Branch level and on appeal before the Immigration and Protection Tribunal.  (The Act also provides for protected person status under both the Convention Against Torture and the Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, but that need not detain us tonight.)  

Refugee status determination essentially turns on whether the claimant qualifies as a refugee in terms of the Article 1 definition of “refugee” in the Refugee Convention.  Unusually, the Refugee Convention is directly imported into our statute law as Schedule 1 to the Immigration Act.  That involves both an “inclusion” test, and an “exclusion” test. 

Under the inclusion test, a refugee is a person who has a well-founded fear of being persecuted in his or her home country, for a “Convention reason”.  The prescribed Convention reasons are “race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion”. For a fear of persecution to be “well-founded”, there must be a real, as opposed to a remote or speculative, chance of it occurring, judged objectively.  

The main exclusion test, under Article 1F of the Convention, is aimed at excluding refugee claimants who have committed very serious wrongdoing such as war crimes or crimes against humanity. In most cases, exclusion will not be at issue.  When at issue, as it famously was in the Ahmed Zaoui case, it can give rise to the most extraordinary and grave allegations and consequences for life, limb and reputation.   

The Refugee Convention was concluded at Geneva on 28 July 1951.  Initially it applied only to persons who had become refugees as a result of events occurring before 1 January 1951 (in essence, as result of World War II and its immediate aftermath).  By subsequent Protocol of 31 January 1967, that temporal limitation was entirely removed.  It is trite to say that in today’s world, the Refugee Convention is having to operate under very different conditions to those which lead to its inception.  

That brings me to Saint Thomas More, and advocacy for “the strangers’ case”.  Better known to me - a life-long wishy washy agnostic - as Sir rather than Saint Thomas More, I will simply call him Thomas More.  Thomas More’s relevance to today’s world-wide refugee crisis harks back to a fascinating combination of actual historical occurrence and long-lost Shakespeariana.   

The historical event involving Thomas More occurred on what became known as Evil May Day, 1 May 1517, precisely five hundred years ago.  For well over 200 years prior, some 64,000 foreigners rich and poor had crossed the English Channel from Europe in search of better lives.  In London at least, the local inhabitants blamed the foreigners for unemployment and loss of culture.  Incendiary xenophobic communications, from the pulpit and posted on public buildings (one on the door of St Paul’s Cathedral) – rather than today’s tweets - stirred tensions and unrest. The migrants were blamed for many of London’s problems and their mass expulsion called for.  Attacks on them became common.   

On Evil May Day, a mob of at least a thousand men and boys armed with stones, bricks, bats and other weapons attacked the foreigners and looted their homes.  The young Thomas More, then the City’s Deputy Sheriff, bravely confronted the rioters and tried to reason with them.  However, his attempt at calming the rioters came to nothing, when the frightened householders under attack retaliated by throwing down stones and hot water from their windows, enflaming the situation ("Under the Tudor Rose, Evil Mayday 1517").

This incident was included in a play written some 80 years later called The Book of Sir Thomas More.  Performance of the play was promptly banned, but the manuscript was later edited and in part rewritten, by William Shakespeare, amongst others. Shakespeare contributed and wrote 147 lines of dialogue at least, which he placed in the mouth of Thomas More.  We know this because, amazingly, the single folio page containing the speech is preserved in the British Library.  It is the only play folio in Shakespeare’s own hand, of all his plays.  

The Book of Sir Thomas More has since been performed, in particular with Sir Ian McKellan as More in 1964. Thomas More’s powerful Shakespearean call to empathy for the “wretched strangers” includes the following lines:  

Grant them removed, and grant that this your noise

Hath chid down all the majesty of England;

Imagine that you see the wretched strangers

Their babies at their backs and their poor luggage,

Plodding to the ports and coasts for transportation,

And that you sit as kings in your desires,

Authority quite silent by your brawl,

And you in ruff of your opinions clothed;

What had you got? I’ll tell you. You had taught

How insolence and strong hand should prevail,

How order should be quelled.  And by this pattern

Not one of you should live an aged man,

For other ruffians, as their fancies wrought,

With self same hand, self reasons, and self right,

Would shark on you, and men like ravenous fishes

Would feed on one another …

Say now the king …

Should so much come to short of your great trespass

As but to banish you, whither would you go?

What country, by the nature of your error,

Should give you harbour? Go you to France or Flanders,

To any German province, to Spain or Portugal,

Nay, any where that not adheres to England,

Why, you must needs be strangers. Would you be pleased

To find a nation of such barbarous temper,

That, breaking out in hideous violence,

Would not afford you an abode on earth,

Whet their detested knives against your throats,

Spurn you like dogs, and like as if that God

Owed not nor made not you, nor that the claimants

Were not all appropriate to your comforts,

But chartered unto them, what would you think

To be thus used? This is the strangers’ case;

And this your mountainish inhumanity.

Thomas More’s brave advocacy of the “strangers’ case” calls to mind the burdens and tribulations of our beleaguered and unappreciated refugee bar.  The preparation and advocacy for refugee claims, itself, is both complex and hugely challenging.  As the Immigration and Protection Tribunal itself has noted, citing eminent English authority (DS (Iran) [2016] NZIPT 800788 at [1] (quoting Sir Stephen Sedley)) the “process of refugee status determination has aptly been described as inherently one of the most challenging in the legal world; [one which] involves making ‘a possible life-and-death decision extracted from shreds of evidence and subjective impressions’, in a jurisdiction which ‘has neither the falsifiability of a science nor the completeness of an art’”.    

Factually and practically, refugee cases will often provide high-stakes and high-pressure professional challenges. They may also involve complex legal problems, the wide-ranging legal sources for which can be our domestic statute law and refugee jurisprudence; other countries’ refugee jurisprudence; academic writings on the Refugee Convention and on refugee jurisprudence; and international human rights law.  

Were these the only challenges faced by the refugee bar, all that would be demanding enough.  However, as a seriously concerning recent two part article in the ADLS Incorporated LawNews reveals ["Last refuge - the unsustainability of practising refugee law in New Zealand", LawNews issues 22 and 26, 7 July 2017 and 4 August 2017] this “most draining and demanding” of practice areas imposes huge burdens, in other respects. Refugee law practitioners have to battle not only the legal aid system (most refugee claimants being, unsurprisingly, impecunious). They must also confront unaccommodating if not dysfunctional refugee determination processes, certainly at Refugee Status Branch level.  The refugee bar is in the unenviable position of having to deal simultaneously with two unsympathetic bureaucracies, the Refugee Status Branch as part of Immigration New Zealand and the legal aid system. 

Refugee lawyers must also cope with the demanding personal and social work-type needs of their often highly traumatised and disadvantaged clients, many of whom do not speak English. Client suicide attempts – sometimes actual suicides - are not uncommon. Social worker assistance previously provided for refugee claimants has been discontinued by the Refugee Status Branch.  So refugee lawyers are forced to operate as unpaid social workers for refugee clients and their families, if only to ensure that they are in a fit state physically and mentally to pursue their claims for refugee status.   

Needless to say, none of this time-consuming extra work is remunerated.  

Thanks in large measure to the work of the Criminal Bar Association, the legal profession as a whole now has a heightened awareness of the importance to society of the work done by the criminal defence bar, and an appreciation of the financial and other burdens of practice in that area. The even heavier burdens and greater challenges faced by the refugee bar are, I venture to suggest, much less appreciated.  If its leaders such as my fearless colleague and good friend Deborah Manning are to be believed, the refugee bar today faces a genuine crisis.  Experienced refugee law practitioners are falling away in significant numbers.  

Recently in Australia, the Minister of Immigration has labelled refugee lawyers providing pro bono legal help to asylum seekers as “un-Australian” – apparently, not intended as a compliment. Over here, however, “Un-New Zealand-ish(?), or “un-Aotearoan” seem unlikely to catch on.   

Even so, if the “strangers’ case” is to have the advocacy it needs, the legal profession and specifically professional bodies need to be more supportive of the refugee bar, and more aware of the difficulties and pressures they face.  The larger firms could look to sharing some of the burdens of this area of legal practice, by treating refugee work by their junior lawyers, perhaps alongside more experienced practitioners, as part of the pro bono component of their practices.  

Harking back to Evil May Day as confronted by Thomas More, these days in the so-called civilised world we generally find other means of repelling and expelling refugees – the modern day strangers – than mob violence.  Refugees and other migrants remain today the easy target for the populist and the xenophobe that they were 500 years ago; but the means employed may be markedly different.  Witness last year’s United Kingdom Brexit vote, for example,   

However, at least for now, we can look to the USA under Trump, and Australia under its politicians of all stripes, for more perverse examples.   

Donald Trump’s racist and irrational executive orders and attempted freeze on both the USA’s refugee intake, and even its returning “resident aliens” were his very first step on taking office as President. More recently, he has halved the United States’ Obama-era quota refugee intake. Our neighbour Australia’s savage and shameful offshore refugee detention camps are well known, and really need no further condemnation from me. (The powerful full-length documentary "Chasing Asylum" - and recently shown on Sky Rialto Channel - should be made compulsory viewing for all Australians, and indeed anyone with a concern about fundamental human rights).

Both of these aberrations ludicrously converged, during the notorious first Trump/Turnbull telephone conversation on 28 January this year.  The day before, Trump had both signed his first executive order and learned of a “resettlement agreement” which Australia had entered into with the former Obama administration. Under that agreement, the USA had agreed to take between 1250 and 2000 refugees from the internment camps on Nauru and Manus Islands, in exchange for rejected US illegal immigrants.  

The transcript of that conversation, only recently released, is worth reading, even if for the squirm factor alone:  

Turnbull: They are basically economic refugees … we know exactly everything about them.  

Trump: Why haven’t you let them out? Why have you not let them into your society?

Turnbull: Okay, I will explain why. It is not because they are bad people. It is because in order to stop people smugglers, we had to deprive them of the product. So we said if you try to come to Australia by boat, even if you think you are the best person in the world, even if you are a Nobel Prize winning genius, we will not let you in. …

Trump: Malcolm, why is this so important? I do not understand. This is going to kill me. I am the world’s greatest person that does not want to let people into the country. And now I am agreeing to take 2,000 people and I agree I can vet them, but that puts me in a bad position. It makes me look so bad and I have only been here a week. …

I hate taking these people. I guarantee you they are bad. That is why they are in prison right now. They are not going to be wonderful people who go on to work for the local milk people.

Turnbull: I would not be so sure about that. …

Trump: Well, maybe you should let them out of prison. …

Does anybody know who these people are?  … Are they going to become the Boston bomber in five years? Or two years?

Turnbull: Let me explain. We know exactly who they are. They have been on Nauru or Manus for over three years and the only reason we cannot let them into Australia is because of our commitment to not allow people to come by boat. Otherwise we would have let them in. If they had arrived by airplane and with a tourist visa then they would be here. …

[In return] we are taking people [that] the previous administration … were very keen on getting out of the United States. We will take anyone that you want us to take. The only people that we do not take are people who come by boat. So we would rather take a not very attractive guy that helps you out, than to take a Nobel Peace Prize winner that comes by boat. That is the point.  

Trump: What is the thing with boats? Why do you discriminate against boats? …I think it is a horrible deal, a disgusting deal … I have had it. I have been making these calls all day and this is the most unpleasant call all day. Putin was a pleasant call. This is ridiculous.

The official statement which followed simply but movingly asserted, that both leaders had “emphasised the enduring strength and closeness of the U.S.-Australia relationship” … 

Trump – Turnbull shows how not to have a conversation about the refugee crisis.  In my view, as New Zealanders, we need to have that conversation, and the legal profession can and should attempt to make it as informed as possible. The conversation I would like to see us have concerns how many and what kinds of refugees we accept.   

First off, what kinds of refugees should New Zealand be prepared to accept?  In the case of refugee status claimants coming here who qualify in terms of the Refugee Convention, there can only be one answer: we are obligated to take them. But as I observed at the outset, today’s world gives rise to a much wider range of humanitarian concerns than were in contemplation mid-last century.  Poverty and famine, the impact of climate change on low-lying small states, and civil war result in vast numbers of people seeking refuge in more fortunate countries such as ours.  

Generally speaking, those suffering the effects of poverty and natural disaster, indeed even civilians displaced by civil war, do not fall within the Refugee Convention definition of “refugee”.  The twin requirements, that the feared individual persecution be both at the hands of “human agency” and for one of the Convention reasons namely race, religion, nationality, political opinion or membership of a social group, mean that so-called economic and climate change refugees will ordinarily fail to qualify.  The Immigration and Protection Tribunal and the superior Courts have consistently so held. (Refer in particular to Teitiota v Chief Executive, MBIE [2013] NZHC 2125, [2014] NZAR 162; [2014] NZCA 173, [2014] NZAR 688; [2015] NZSC 107)

Should we broaden our conception of who qualifies as a refugee?  The Green Party election policy on refugees included the creation of a new “humanitarian visa” for climate refugees from the Pacific, with an initial ceiling of 100 people a year.  However, any initiative along these lines needs to be on top of our fundamental commitment at international law to accept Convention refugees.  Equally, it must not be seen as in any way discharging New Zealand’s obligations as a developed country, to assist those smaller states particularly vulnerable to climate change with managing the serious and pressing problems they face in situ

Secondly, should we be accepting more refugees? Are we pulling our weight? Before addressing these questions, a few basic facts and figures (mainly derived from the UNHCR Report "Global Trends: Forced Displacement in 2016", especially the Annex, Tables 9 and 26).

World-wide, there is a massive humanitarian and refugee crisis.  The UNHCR reports that as at year end 2016 there were 65.6 million “forcibly displaced” individuals world-wide, of whom 24.3 million were refugees or asylum seekers. These are all time record levels.  The refugee burden is disproportionately shouldered by the less developed countries – although we tend to hear more of the difficulties faced by prosperous countries such as Germany. In 2016, Uganda received 415,000 new refugee arrivals, most from neighbouring south Sudan. Since August this year, at least 519,000 Rohingya Muslims have fled persecution in Burma to neighbouring Bangladesh (as reported in the New Zealand Herald of 14 October 2017).

In response, on 19 September 2016 the United Nations General Assembly unanimously adopted the New York Declaration for Refugees and Migrants.  The Declaration has been described by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees as marking “a political commitment of unprecedented force and resonance”, and as filling “a perennial gap in the international protection system – that of truly sharing responsibility for refugees”.  It reaffirms the Refugee Convention as the foundation of the international refugee protection regime.  The Declaration also includes both a commitment to “a more equitable sharing of the burden and responsibility for hosting and supporting the world’s refugees”, and encourages countries with resettlement programmes to consider increasing them (Resolution 71/1, 3 October 2016, paras 65, 68 and 78. See

Despite the urgency and magnitude of this world-wide crisis, its current impact on New Zealand is negligible.  We are the only country in the world that receives fewer asylum seekers than quota refugees.  This is because of our geographic isolation and also our strict screening of inbound travellers.  Over the last fifteen years, these factors have meant a reduction of about 75% in the level of asylum seekers succeeding in getting here in order to claim refugee status.  In 2016, New Zealand had 570 applications for refugee status from asylum seekers, of which approximately half were rejected.   

Ever since the quota refugee system was established in 1976, our annual refugee quota has remained at 750.  In 2018, it is due to increase to 1000. The quota refugees are thoroughly screened, by the UNHCR, by Immigration New Zealand, and by various security agencies.  We reject as undesirable about 20% of those offered to us as quota refugees. Our overall refugee intake – both quota refugees and asylum seekers successfully claiming refugee status – is currently less than 2% of our overall net immigration into the country. 

In terms of our refugee intake, we even fail to compare with Australia, with its repugnant treatment of asylum seekers.  Australia actually accepts five times more refugees per head of population than we do. Canada, nearly nine times more.  Per capita, our refugee intake ranks 95th out of 196 countries, or 121st based on relative GDP.   

Any discussion of a substantial increase in our annual refugee quota requires understanding of a fundamental point.  Our humanitarian obligations towards refugees and level of refugee intake, and the contentious socio-political question whether we need more or fewer immigrants, are two entirely separate and different issues.  This crucial distinction has even been acknowledged by Winston Peters, that implacable opponent of current immigration levels.9 As lawyers, we need to ensure that it continues to be clearly drawn and made, in any public debate about refugees.  

As mentioned, next year the refugee quota is set to increase to 1000.  That is woefully inadequate. Indeed, it makes our support for the New York Declaration empty words.  The Labour Party’s election policy was to increase the quota to 1500 refugees a year over three years. That is little better.  By contrast, Green Party policy was to immediately double the existing quota to 2000, increasing to 4000 by 2023 with a further 1000 resettled by Churches and other NGOs.   

New Zealand has shown chronic indifference to and lack of direct engagement with the current refugee crisis.  To describe that state of affairs as the product of our combined wilful ignorance and wilful blindness is, if anything, charitable.  We must heed the reproach of Bertolt Brecht:  

When evil-doing comes like falling rain, nobody calls out “stop!”

When crimes begin to pile up they become invisible. 

When sufferings become unendurable the cries are no longer heard.

The cries, too, fall like rain in summer.

New Zealanders, including the legal profession, must respond to the refugees’ cries of suffering.  Even if it seems only a drop in the bucket, a substantial increase in our annual refugee quota must be part of that response.  

Thomas More’s voice of reason in defence of a hated minority, raised full 500 years ago, should inspire all lawyers to advocate the “strangers’ case” today, with the same commitment and bravery.  After all, what could possibly be a more robust and empowering precedent, than a 500 year old stand upon principle?

The unsustainability-of-practising-refugee-law-in-new-zealand-(part-2)/4 August 2017–-the-unsustainability-of-practising-refugee-law-in-new-zealand-(part-2)/

In a recent edition of Law News (Issue 22, 7 July 2017), we raised the question of why many of the country’s refugee law practitioners are turning their backs on this area of law, despite a professed love of the clients and the work.

Anyone who read the previous discussion of the many unique frustrations refugee practitioners face and the general thanklessness of their work will no doubt understand that for some, in spite of an ongoing desire to assist those in need – there is a breaking point. The relentless demands, the incompatibility with having a life outside of work, the constant discouragement and the lack of adequate funding simply do not add up.

Lawyers to whom we spoke explained that refugee clients tend to have a lot of mental health issues – they have suffered trauma in their home countries and often have psychological issues that need to be addressed before they can present their claims. “You end up spending a lot of time running around setting up psych appointments and getting psych reports,” states one lawyer.

“About half of our clients would have issues that sit somewhere along the mental health spectrum,” says Convenor of ADLS’ Immigration and Refugee Law Committee, Deborah Manning. “It is hardly surprising – by definition, a refugee is someone who is in fear of serious harm if they return to their home country – it is no wonder they are stressed. The decision-makers pay lip service to acknowledging the stress clients face but don’t adapt or modify their processes accordingly.”

And the emotional toll is not limited to those seeking refuge, it seeps through to their lawyers also, especially with the additional “non-lawyer” burdens and inevitable involvement in their clients’ lives, hopes and fears.

“This kind of work does affect you personally,” notes one former refugee practitioner. “Although that can be a problem with any type of legal work, the increased unpredictability in this area just adds to an already stressful situation.”

“We had a number of clients attempt suicide which affects you deeply too – it can be a dark area to practise in. It is very draining and demanding because the stakes are so high. I remember a senior practitioner saying to me that it is the closest thing we’ve got here in New Zealand to death row cases – in some cases, if the refugees’ applications are not successful and they get sent back to their home country, that could literally be the end for them. That responsibility weighs very heavily.”

“Seeing people at their lowest, while they are having to relive the most traumatic experiences of their lives – there is no end to the need, and you end up exhausted,” agrees another.

“Doing this kind of work is all or nothing. It involves a unique set of skills and is very demanding and relentless – churning out all of the work according to the time cycles required by the RSB and the IPT makes it almost impossible to integrate refugee work into a wider practice.”

Immigration lawyer Simon Laurent took his last legal aid refugee case in 2005, then let his listing lapse. Since then, he has done very little work in this area apart from a few privately-funded cases, the last of which he did in 2013.

“I’m still doing immigration law – it’s what pays,” he says. “I also run a practice with a number of solicitors working in it – the exigencies of needing to run a practice mean that it’s not really affordable to do refugee law. Most of the people I know who are working in this area are sole operators or are running their practices in a way which I would describe as scary – they are hanging on by the skin of their teeth.”

“For me, the main change came about when I had kids – between the demands of my client base coupled with the demands of children and getting paid very poorly for what I was doing, it became impossible to carry on,” says one of the lawyers with whom we spoke, who is now no longer working in the area. “You can work your fingers to the bone doing refugee work but because it’s all legally aided, and you have to jump through so many hoops to get that legal aid, it is hard to make it work. If I was going to be away from my children for work, I had to maximise my time and my earning capacity.

“If I could have continued to build my practice in this area and sustained it, I would have done so because I loved it. But I couldn’t. You end up being in boots and all and getting burnt out. It’s an incredible area to work in, but it’s an impossible area too.”

“Immigration law is one of the most interesting areas of the law, and refugee law is a critical part of that, dealing with matters fundamental to people’s survival,” says Mr Laurent. “One of the biggest benefits is the satisfaction in seeing the massive relief of people who have learned that their application has been successful and that they are safe. You can go for weeks and months sometimes and things look pretty bleak, but then an approval comes through and makes it all worthwhile.”

A colleague who has moved into other practice areas but still misses refugee law, says, “It’s a real honour to be in the role of supporting these people through their journey. You get to interact with people from multiple different cultures, to gain insight into their lives and to learn about many different political situations.”

“And, if you do a good job of it, you end up being able to help people achieve the most significant turn of events in their lives. Being in such dire need, and seeking and achieving safe haven from a government – I can’t imagine anything huger than that. To be able to help them do that is amazing. But the path to get there is exhausting.”

So, is there any way to address these problems and help those who still want to help? What needs to happen for the situation to improve? Would such changes be sufficient to retain good people in this vital practice area, entice people back or to encourage newcomers to consider it?

“I am not sure,” confesses one of the lawyers with honesty. Another agrees: “It is so hard to say what needs to improve as so much of what would need to change seems impossible – I don’t really know how it can and I just ran out of hope.”

Others offered more concrete suggestions, although it seems they have made these many times in the past, to little avail.

“A better understanding of counsel’s role and being given more respect for what we do would help,” says Ms Manning. “Also, a better understanding of the trauma that clients face and that this can require more time to prepare for hearings.”

A change in RSB processes

Mr Laurent considers that the dearth of people working in this field is made worse by problems inherent in the system as they juggle their caseloads against the tight timeframes while not getting enough legal aid: “It’s a systemic issue that there are not enough people doing this work and they’re underfunded.” While more funding would obviously help, he also thinks the approach to processing refugee cases at first instance needs to be drastically altered to reduce the length of interviews with RSB officers.

When he first started doing this work, an interview might take three or four hours, whereas they can now take up to two days. He says that the officers spend a lot of time asking questions and going over information which has already been provided. “There is a lack of flexibility and pragmatism, or perhaps the policies which the officers have to follow are unreasonably burdensome, which leads to an inability to make decisions efficiently.”

A change in legal aid processes and funding

“If the legal aid system became more reliable, that would help matters,” says one practitioner. “If legal aid grants were more realistic, if there was less politics about paying money to help people who many people don’t even think should be here in the first place, then there would be less stress,” says another.

Support for refugee claimants

“If there were access to more support for refugee clients in the wider community so that they’re not sleeping in people’s garages or having mental health breakdowns, and so that their legal adviser was not the one having to call the CAT helpline when they said they were going to kill themselves, that would help take the extra load off practitioners,” agrees another. “The social work side of things is not a role we’re supposed to be doing, but you have to when you’re the only link a person has.”

Support for refugee law practitioners

One ex-practitioner points to the need to address the expectation that lawyers will don multiple hats as required: “If there was more support for the non-legal work for asylum seekers – if there were somewhere you could send your clients and know that their other needs would be looked after and supported, then you could focus on their case better.”

Ms Manning says that a better accommodation of family-friendly work practices for those lawyers with children (and many of those practising in this area are women) would greatly assist too: “In the past family-friendly working hours were accommodated, but I was then told that this no longer makes business sense and will only be allowed if justified on a case-by-case basis. Some women have just left because it is too hard to make it work.”

She says that a way of “not allowing things to get to crisis point” needs to be found. “Hearings are like shows and you have to be ready for that, but there should be ways of relieving the stress.” She applauds a process set up in 2015 whereby a practitioner can confidentially request “a bit of breathing room” from the IPT Chairman. Although she had a “false start” the first time she tried to use the process with the Tribunal (no respite was granted despite being offered after a series of client suicide attempts), she considers the model is a good one and is now working, due to the current Chair of the Tribunal.

Attracting more lawyers to the practice of refugee law

Given the uphill battle that is daily life in practice for refugee lawyers, it seems hard to believe that anyone would want to do this kind of work. Yet, those to whom we spoke testified that the rewards are capable of compensating for the hardships, if refugee lawyers feel sufficiently supported by the system – “The meaningfulness of the work does outweigh the frustrations,” as one lawyer puts it. And more people doing this kind of work would certainly help ease the toll on the already depleted and stretched refugee bar.

We asked our interviewees whether they had any advice for young lawyers considering refugee law as a career path, or indeed for established practitioners wanting to give something back. The general consensus was that they would still encourage others to go into this “demanding and rewarding” area, but that changes are needed and better support is crucial.

“If practising refugee law was something which could integrate better into, say, a wider social justice-type practice, I would say ‘Don’t hesitate!’” says one lawyer. “You just can’t get that kind of experience, cultural understanding and insight into international law anywhere else.”

But another, more seasoned lawyer says that she would temper such advice with a caution to “do it when you don’t have kids and you have more time”. “Refugee clients are very high maintenance and you really feel that they need you. I would also advise getting a good couple of years of grounding/training in other legal practice areas first.”

“The positives can outweigh the negatives,” says Simon Laurent. “If you get it right, you can literally save someone’s life by working in this area. It’s life or death because the very concept of persecution involves the person being under a threat of serious harm.”

Deborah Manning says that she is very keen to hear from anyone interested in learning more about refugee or human rights law, or in taking on or assisting with work in this “interesting/not well paid quadrant of the matrix”. “But,” she points out, “it is work that makes a huge difference.”

Given the issues for refugee law practitioners that have been raised in this and the earlier article on this topic (see LawNews Issue 22, 7 July 2017), the ADLS Immigration and Refugee Law Committee wishes to convene a meeting of lawyers practising or interested in practising in this area of law. It is intended that the meeting take place at 12.30pm on Wednesday 30 August 2017, at ADLS’ Chancery Chambers premises in Auckland. For further information or to indicate your intention to attend, please contact the Committee Secretary at


Is it time to ban police pursuits? by Donna Chisholm / 09 October, 2017


..With another crash in Gisborne in July claiming three more young lives after an abandoned pursuit, lawyer Deborah Manning, who’s advising the families of teens in the Hobsonville accident, says it’s time for another look at chase laws. “Really serious questions need to be asked about the number of young people dying for the relatively minor offence they committed at the beginning – and the relative predictability of that being the outcome.”

Police would have seen the Hobsonville car was full of young people – at one stage there were seven, including two in the boot of the stationwagon, but two got out at a shopping centre before the crash.  “It’s a high-risk approach to be chasing a car when it’s packed full of kids.”


Manning says few chases have been challenged in the Coroner’s Court because families feel an enduring sense of shame. 

“They are so disenfranchised, and when we’re talking about (injured) victims, who are the people they are most involved with in the weeks and months after a crash? The police.  There’s no pulling the telescope back a bit and saying maybe the police didn’t have to chase at all.”


Auckland District Law Society: Last refuge – the unsustainability of practising refugee law in New Zealand

07 JUL 2017  —  BY LAWNEWS.–-the-unsustainability-of-practising-refugee-law-in-new-zealand/

“Refugee work can be both rewarding and heartbreaking,” says a lawyer practising in this most draining and demanding of areas, encapsulating the frustrating paradox that members of New Zealand’s refugee bar have long been voicing, but which seems to have fallen on deaf ears.

Long-time human rights advocate and Convenor of ADLS’ Immigration and Refugee Law Committee, Deborah Manning, thinks much of the problem stems from the fact that few people really understand the complexity of practising refugee law, the “above and beyond” demands of helping clients with non-legal problems, and its “all or nothing” nature.

“Many people don’t even know what a refugee lawyer does. A good refugee lawyer needs to get to grips with the facts of a case, know and be able to apply the relevant domestic and international laws, and have the skills to manage the case,” she explains.

Deborah Manning has been voicing concerns about the undervaluing and underfunding of human rights work in New Zealand, particularly in the area of refugee law, for some time now. And a recent article by Emma Ryan in Australian publication Lawyers Weekly (“Human rights lawyers ‘not valued’ in Aus”, 9 March 2017) suggests that such concerns might not be unique to New Zealand.

Ms Manning and a number of other current and former practitioners in the human rights and refugee law area spoke exclusively to LawNews about their experiences over a period of many months, beginning in 2016. Some of those to whom we spoke no longer practise in the area, others are considering leaving. Some were only willing to comment on the condition of anonymity. However, they hope that speaking out will help shed some light on the challenges and rewards of working in this frustrating yet potentially life-changing area of legal practice.

The refugee bar in crisis – an “uphill battle”

“I ended up taking a break and I was intending to go back to it, but when I looked at what I had been doing, it didn’t make any sense to me to go back,” reflects one lawyer who has ceased working in this area. “It’s just not sustainable in the long term because of the toll it takes on you as a person.”

The dwindling numbers of lawyers who are now willing and able to help represent the vulnerable is worrying to say the least – Ms Manning notes that there are less than ten practitioners doing this work regularly here.

“People are being ground down by the dysfunctional processes and are leaving the refugee bar,” says Ms Manning. “We all blame ourselves – it is easy to tell yourself that if you can’t handle the heat you should get out of the kitchen. But it is a genuine problem that is getting worse not better.”

She told LawNews that she has trained five lawyers who have ceased doing this kind of work, and says that it is “gutting” to spend so much time training others only to see them walk away. And unfortunately, another young lawyer also looks likely to move in a different direction, despite a genuine love of the work. “I’ve reached a point where I am so frustrated with the system,” says a junior lawyer who is shortly intending to take a break from refugee work, not knowing whether she will return.

With the varied legal, emotional and psychological nature of the work, and the feeling of constantly banging your head against a wall, a day in the life of a refugee lawyer can be pretty rough.

“You go into the office planning to attack X, Y and Z but you end up fighting a whole lot of other fires. I know work can be like that for everyone, but the stakes are higher when there is a threat of someone getting sent back to their home country.”

Ms Manning notes that, in the course of any one day, she could be doing any (or often all) of a number of tasks – meeting with clients, applying for legal aid, drafting statements, preparing for interviews, trying to get interpreters, arranging doctor or psychologist appointments, feeding clients who drop in, helping with their other non-legal needs or attending hearings. And that is just on a good day. She stresses that this level of workload is typical for refugee lawyers who “do it properly” – those who are genuinely committed to helping their clients achieve the best outcome.

And before we get into the “blame game” that refugee lawyers take on too much and bring the stress upon themselves, she and the Committee want to “bust some myths”. While our interviewees all acknowledged that stress is high and work/life balance suffers in any area of legal practice, the unremitting and thankless nature of the refugee lawyer’s daily grind is in a category of its own.

“It’s the incessant combination of all of these things which makes it just too much – there are too many negatives and too few positives,” says one former refugee practitioner.

Further, systemic problems such as unachievable deadlines set by decision-making bodies, translation issues with non-English speakers, lack of funding, the need to be both social worker and lawyer to one’s clients, issues with mental health (of clients and lawyers) all must be grappled with, frequently snowballing into an overall emotional toll verging on burnout.

In spite of the frustrations, those who do this work profess to love it – our interviewees universally cited a passion for social justice over financial reward, which drew them to refugee work “because it’s the right thing to do”. This makes it even sadder that some are effectively being forced to quit for other, less all-consuming areas of practice.

Untenable deadlines

One of the first frustrations mentioned was the difficulties of interacting with the primary decision-maker for those seeking refuge in New Zealand, the Refugee Status Branch or RSB. This is the body that hears clients’ claims for refugee status in New Zealand in the first instance, in a seven-hour hearing or “interview” that requires much advance preparation to piece together clients’ stories of persecution and trauma, and the sourcing of evidence and expert reports from here and overseas.

Practitioners told us of administrative demands, “unrealistic” deadlines and a seeming lack of empathy on the part of decision-makers. This, coupled with difficulties with language and more than ordinarily stressed-out clients, sets the stage for a particularly intense environment in which to operate (for both lawyers and clients) than many other hearings-based areas of practice.

ADLS’ Immigration and Refugee Law Committee informally polled a number of lawyers in other practice areas as to how long they are given to prepare for one- to two-day hearings (akin to an RSB refugee interview). Feedback received from employment, family and civil practitioners indicates that, in general, somewhere between three and five months is a usual amount of preparation time (except for urgent matters). However, refugee lawyers get a mere six to seven weeks to prepare for a substantive refugee interview from the time a claim is filed, during which period they need to seek legal aid, get interpreters and prepare and sense-check the client’s statement.

At the point of finalising this article, it was also disheartening to get notice that the Immigration and Protection Tribunal (IPT or Tribunal) was intending to start setting down matters for hearing without consulting practitioners as to their availability, while also shortening the timeframes for preparation. One lawyer to whom we spoke had received three hearings set down for nine weeks out, which was simply untenable in terms of preparation and other work commitments which had already been scheduled. Fortunately, the refugee bar was able to dialogue with the Tribunal to secure a minimum of 12 weeks’ notice in advance of hearings, with the new approach to be trialled and reviewed in due course.

Ms Manning considers these sorts of pressured timeframes to be unsustainable, especially given the state of semi-urgency which inevitably goes with this territory. She notes that the process of preparing for a refugee status interview is a lot more time- and labour-intensive than many (likely including the decision-makers themselves) may realise. We repeatedly heard that the decision-makers seem focused on setting dates for interviews, meeting targets and clearing backlogs, to the detriment of the best interests of claimants and the well-being of this small group of lawyers.

“There is a lack of understanding as to how long things actually take – we are often told that we will have to go ahead with an interview even though a vital piece of information is missing,” said one interviewee. “Deadlines don’t take account of interpreters’ availability (often only out of hours) or the logistical difficulties in getting evidence from overseas.”

Another lawyer says she has been told that “you don’t need more than two weeks to prepare for an interview”, in spite of the unavoidable limitations which make this amount of preparation time woefully insufficient.

“There are so many things we have to juggle. For example, if we get asked for an updated doctor’s or psychologist’s report on a client, this can mean an additional three-month wait on the public system. There is no awareness of this, and even when we obtain reports, chances are they won’t be believed.”

Even with almost 20 years’ experience in refugee law, Ms Manning says that it has taken a long time for her to have the “lightbulb moment” that her inability to cope with the tight timeframes was systemic rather than personal to her.

“Even when I’ve only had one case on the go, the timeframes have still been unworkable. I had always blamed myself, but that made me realise that there were structural problems – some things just don’t fit into those timeframes no matter how hard you try.”

Another common theme from interviewees was that RSB officers “start from a position of disbelief or suspicion” when looking at claimants’ credibility – their stories, evidence from their country of origin, doctors’ reports, etc., and show little sympathy for their present plight and fears for the future.

“There is a tendency to actively look for inconsistencies in a client’s story without an understanding that stress and fears about the future can have a big effect on memory. RSB officers are expecting clients to recall dates which ordinary people wouldn’t remember, let alone when you have been in fear of your life.”

On occasion, lawyers report that they themselves have also been treated disrespectfully when attempting to properly represent their clients, even to the point of being told off in front of clients and interpreters. Comments one: “You get the sense that the RSB sees the lawyers as an obstacle – that it would prefer the clients to be unrepresented – but you’re not trying to make things difficult, you are just trying to represent your clients.”

Interviewees say that they “rarely complain” about this sort of treatment because they are either too busy trying to meet deadlines or because they do not want to sabotage ongoing interactions with the decision-making body, but that the feeling of being poorly-treated and under-valued is very wearing. Ms Manning notes that you do not want to be “at war” with the decision-makers. She suggests that this is allowed to continue unchecked because refugee proceedings take place behind closed doors without much external scrutiny, unlike other hearings which are held in open court.

Legal aid – little help

Another of the biggest challenges refugee lawyers face is inadequate legal aid allowances. Invariably, refugee claimants have little or no money, which obviously requires practitioners to represent them on legal aid rates, but dealing with legal aid grants is universally described as “a real barrier” and “a constant battle”. Interviewees say that they end up doing a lot of pro bono work because the legal aid grants in this area are not realistic.

“Tight deadlines mean that you have to start preparing the case before you know whether you’re going to get paid. If the claim for legal aid is declined, often you feel morally obliged to continue on regardless – one of my colleagues has been known to do entire cases for nothing.”

Another practitioner relates a situation where she was still waiting on legal aid and was told by the RSB that an interview would simply proceed without her if she was not ready to front up.

Simon Laurent, an immigration lawyer who used to also do refugee work, describes the amount of work required just to apply for funding as “really significant”. “In return for that, funding would often be declined because they’d already determined that the case was without merit, a decision which you would have to appeal. It was just a nightmare – the remuneration was always lower than what was required, or the full amount of hours was not able to be claimed.”

“You can apply for an amendment to the grant, but given the time and paperwork involved, often it is faster just to do the extra work for nothing,” says a former practitioner with whom we spoke. “A level of resentment comes in though when this happens a lot.” “There is a level of mistrust which means you are starting from behind the eight ball right from the beginning,” said another. “It’s not like there are vast numbers of people making these applications, but it is still a fight every time.”

One lawyer explained that an employed lawyer doing this type of work can, over time, become “dis-incentivised” from representing refugees on legal aid because he or she becomes unable to meet the firm’s billing targets. “Thus, their own continued employment or ability to gain promotion is in the balance.” Simon Laurent agrees that people truly wanting to continue doing this kind of work would need to “either be working from home with very low overheads or work in a well-heeled firm with partners sympathetic to this kind of work, who were prepared to subsidise the taking of some refugee cases with income from other practice areas”.

Deborah Manning says that she prefers not to talk about funding pressures, “because it’s not all about that”, but notes that the demands of the system mean that refugee lawyers often have to work without knowing whether or not they are going to get paid. “The RSB and the IPT [Immigration and Protection Tribunal] effectively say it’s our problem and in a sense that’s right, but not when it’s a systemic issue. When it affects the whole system, we all need to talk about it. They wouldn’t expect to prepare for and conduct a hearing or interview unpaid, yet we are expected to do just that.”

Identity crisis

The problem is exacerbated by the fact that a lot of the work done by refugee lawyers is not covered by legal aid and so is not able to be funded at all. That is because a lack of support for refugee clients in the wider community means that much of the lawyers’ work falls outside their “lawyer hat”, and comes more within what should be the remit of a social worker or counsellor. Also, as clients tend to be vulnerable and isolated, those with whom we spoke describe a “sense of responsibility” that this engenders in the lawyer, leading to an unavoidable degree of involvement in clients’ lives.

One interviewee estimates that, given the additional social work-type tasks she had to do, she was “able to bill about a third of the work that I did”. “It is very hard to say no, so you end up doing an enormous amount of work for which you know you are never going to be compensated.” “You end up being a one-stop shop for all of their social work needs,” agrees another interviewee. “There is no one else who can help them and if you want to present their claim properly, they need to be in the best, most unstressed state possible.”

Although there used to be a social worker attached to the RSB, this was deemed surplus to requirements – now, the system expects lawyers to fill the breach. “In the recent past, Immigration New Zealand has asked me to arrange things like baby bottles, client accommodation and WINZ applications,” says Ms Manning. “It’s not uncommon for us to feed our clients when they come in to the office or to set up doctors’ appointments for them. And we have to do it – how will our clients be able to instruct us if they haven’t got anywhere to stay or anything to eat or if they are unwell?”

In the final part of this article (which will feature in an upcoming edition), we will look at what, if anything, might be done to mitigate these systemic frustrations and difficulties. 



Acquiring and holding power in our society is still harder for many women than for men. What needs to change? In the week that Jacinda Ardern became leader of the Labour Party, Britt Mann sat down with three finalists in this year's Women of Influence awards to talk about the challenges of being female and ambitious in 2017.

Britt: How significant is it that Jacinda has been elected leader of the Labour party? Does it matter that she's a woman or is it just about having the best person for the job?

Deborah Manning: It shouldn't matter, but it does matter. I was born in 1975 – the year of "girls can do anything". I was brought up believing it. 

Then, in my 20s, I realised "girls can do anything" doesn't mean "girls can do everything", but I'm still trying to do everything.

Having my son was a game-changer. I was fortunate I had my son when I was 35. I had established myself in my career and I had that professional confidence and sense of self-worth. Despite that, it has almost made me give up, because it has been that hard.

Hearings generally are 10am till 5pm. In Auckland traffic, that's just a nightmare. Why does a hearing have to be a full day, why can't they be two half days? It's very hard to even have that conversation with people. I work in an area of law where people are often traumatised – refugee law. Over the last number of years [I've fought to have one hearing] run over two days, which allows more women to participate.



Deborah Manning is a barrister specialising in refugee and immigration law, and human rights. She was the co-counsel for Algerian refugee Ahmed Zaoui, and is presently representing Afghan civilians allegedly attacked by the New Zealand Defence Force. 

Britt: When you talk about having self-confidence, often traits perceived as positive in a man are perceived negatively when exhibited by a woman. Is that something you've experienced?

Deborah: One hundred per cent. You're constantly having to gauge your demeanour in situations where there are men.

Dr Paula Morris: So you don't look too hard-faced, or bitchy, pushy...

Deborah: Totally. One of my female colleagues always says: "We have to know how to dance." I was thinking about this yesterday: in what ways has being a woman made my job easier, in what ways has it made it harder? I can't think of a single way it's made it easier.


Paula: I have friends who are lawyers and I hear similar stories all the time. They'll say something in a meeting, it'll be ignored, and then a man will say it, and be told it's the best idea in the world.

Deborah: I think parents, especially women, are so exhausted with asking for [the system to be more family-friendly] you just give up asking. I've had agreements from the Chair of the Tribunal and the Deputy Chair that we'll do family-friendly hours. But every single hearing, without exception, I have to remind or correct. You feel like you have to say: "I've got a slight impediment, I know it's annoying, do you mind accommodating me?" Rather than it being like: "Oh, we have forgotten again, we're really sorry."

Paula: I'm sure you're not the only person with children?



Maramena Roderick (Te Arawa, Te Rarawa) is the head of news and current affairs at Māori Television. She worked at the New Zealand Herald and TVNZ as both a foreign correspondent and an award-winning investigative reporter here.

Deborah: Yes but the other lawyers with children, they don't want to ask. Because they feel inadequate, and they say so. So I've been the one spearheading this and the people behind me are grateful. But even though I've managed to basically get this, they're still reluctant to ask for it. I understand that, because I'm reluctant to ask for it.

Britt: It's a bummer that there are people in the same position as you, who are not willing to stand up for the group…

Deborah: Am I disappointed that my colleagues aren't more outspoken and I'm carrying a lot of the burden? If I'm honest, yes. But do I understand [why they're reluctant to speak out]? Yes.

Britt: Often times the way you think you'd act in a situation where you have to stand up for yourself plays out differently in reality. When it actually happens you're just like, it's too much effort. How do we overcome that?

Paula: My nephew's wife moved here from Mexico when she was 19 – she's the kind of person Donald Trump would hate – she's got a first class degree in politics, she did a Masters in public policy. She speaks fluent Spanish and English. Before she finished her Masters she'd been offered a job at MBIE as a policy analyst. I saw her at a politics showcase and I said to my colleague: "Oh that's my nephew's wife, I'm so proud of her. She's been offered a job, she hasn't even finished yet." And he said: "Well, her good looks probably helped." You're so taken aback, you're not expecting it.

All I could say was: "'Cos that's why positions of power in the world are filled with good-looking women?"

[In the documentary My Year With Helen] Helen Clark said you've got to be resilient enough to lose. But you also have to be resilient enough to take s.... You have to know that when someone does something to you, and you say, "Hands off, please", they're maybe going to call you a nasty name. Or think you're humourless. And you have to be resilient enough to take that. You have to be resilient enough for people to call you all the names in the universe...

It makes you really unpopular. And it might mean that your employer thinks you're, you know, mentally disturbed in some way, or just a troublemaker. 'Cos it's always framed afterwards: "Oh, they were just joking, oh you really misinterpreted it." It's not just men who do it, it's women as well, unfortunately. They feel as though there's room for one woman, there's not room for two or three or four, therefore they're busy pulling up the ladder after them and they will be quite derogatory about other women. If you do perceive there's only ever going to be one woman on a board, and you're it, you're going to start viewing other women as threats.

Deborah: Something I've found that I think is a solution, is essentially about being able to have an open discussion between men and women on the team, about power and about the need for men to share power and women to take power. Throughout my career, I have worked with male colleagues –  we're a duo – and that has worked really well. Despite all this, how I've managed to be OK is because of the male colleagues I've worked with. We talk about these things and we're consciously aware of them. That's the hope. It's about being able to have that conversation.

Britt: With regards to the "girls can do anything" message you grew up with, do you think young people are still getting those messages, or have we regressed?

Deborah: I've still got friends who talk about "blue jobs" and "pink jobs" in their house. At the beginning of this year, I woke up to an enormous dead rat under my kitchen table. And my first instinct was to get my [male] neighbour. But I said to myself: "Come on, I can deal with this dead rat." And I can show my son how to deal with a dead rat.

Paula: With tongs, I hope.

Deborah: It was a slightly traumatising experience. Anyway. I got a shovel. And I buried that rat.

Paula: I would have burned it, as a warning to other rats.

Deborah: It was interesting because I was socialised to want to get a man to do it.

Paula: People will sometimes say to me: "You know what men are like around the house!" The truth is, my husband does everything. I would live in complete disarray if not for him. And I had a father who did a lot of housework, he cleaned the bathrooms, he did the dishes, he mopped the floors every Saturday. I didn't grow up thinking men didn't do housework.

Maramena joins the conversation.

Britt: Maramena, could you give us a bit of an outline of your career path?

Maramena Roderick: I was the teenage Māori pregnant girl at school; I was a quintessential statistic.

I don't regret having my bubba, I just wish I had been older. I had a great family, but it was really hard. It got to the point where it wasn't a choice any more. I had to [have a career] for me and my baby to get on with it. I didn't want to be that statistic. I went on the benefit and then it was one of the most joyous days when I got my first job at the New Zealand Herald and went: "There you go, I don't need it any more. Thank you for the help."

I'm from the sticks – Taumarunui – and I came up to Auckland, on a cadet wage. It was for about 18 months; you're at the bottom of the barrel. I say to these young journos today: "16K I was on!"

The first Christmas I went out to Manukau. I had no money – I only had $12. My sister had come up to help me [with my daughter]. I went and bought a pack of crayons, a jotter pad and a ball. I went home and I couldn't afford glue so we made glue out of flour and water. We found old magazines which we wrapped up all the presents in. I wrapped up all her little crayons separately so it looked like she had more presents. She would have been about 3.

Then we went and snapped a branch off a tree outside and put it in a bucket, and made – out of the flour glue – paper chains and put that round the tree.

I was just so devastated when I looked at it. I thought: "This is the worst Christmas."

And she came out in the morning and saw it and her eyes went so wide. She came running up to me and wrapped her hands around my neck and she went:

"Oh Mummy, I love you."

I just wept. That's when I made my decision: "I'm not going to put you through this again. We are not going to be here again."

And it kind of went from there. I just stayed focused and kept going.

Britt: Being a reporter isn't the most lucrative job. Was there ever a time where you thought maybe I'll chuck this in and do something that'll make more money?

Maramena: No. I'm really blessed to have landed in a profession that I love, that I'm passionate about. I'm nosy by nature. I love having a licence to ask strangers: "What are you about?" If you'd told me when I was a 15-year-old pregnant girl at Taumarunui High School that I was going to one day travel around the world and ask people and leaders anything I wanted and someone was going to pay me to do it, I'd have never believed you.

I was lucky there was a careers adviser who I went to and said: "I've got to get my life together for me and my girl. Maybe I'll go to Waikato and study business, 'cos I'm not really good at taking orders from anyone..."

The counsellor said: "I think you should be a journalist." I said: "What? Aren't they brainy?"

This was on a Wednesday. He said: "By the way, I've booked you in for an interview on Friday."

I went there – where you go for all your study, all your training, testing – the broadcasting people come in and they test your voice. A lot of the students got great reports. And my one read: "Maramena Roderick will never have a career in broadcasting."

[Gasps around the table.]

Britt: When you got that report back, what went through your mind?

Maramena: "Watch me."

Paula: Another person wouldn't have had the confidence to do that...

Maramena: I was lucky to come from a family that loved me. I think that counts for a lot.

Britt: What would it take for more women to have senior positions in your respective fields?

Maramena: I don't want to see women at the top in my field because they're women. I want them there because they're the best. They're there for what they bring to the job, not for what size their dick is.

I look forward to the day where there are far more women in those positions of decision-making. I get very disappointed, however, when I see women standing on other women to get to where they want to get in front of the male bosses. They perceive there's only so many gaps for women, so they will stand on other women. What I try to instil in my staff is that no one's indispensable, no one's irreplaceable. But what we can do is the very best while we're here and ensure that we leave it in a far better place for the next person.

When women on staff come and say they want to be in my job, I love it. I don't think anyone should be in a job forever – you always need fresh eyes. And I do hope, and I do believe, there'll be another wahine Māori who will come through and will take it to the next level, maybe because of a little bit that I did to open that door and get her there, and I'll celebrate that.

Paula: In writing, women are the readers, women are the ones who buy books. Women are the ones who go to festivals, women are the ones who work in publishing. Unfortunately none of it is highly paid, or highly regarded. I wonder if the fact that literature is something seen as something written by and for women, is one of the reasons why it's not valued as much as sport, say.

It's as though we're still in the 19th century with men complaining there are too many women writing trash. Once there are too many women in the area of cultural production, it somehow diminishes it – it makes it into a craft, versus an art, or into somehow a hobby.

Deborah: In terms of women in the legal profession, first and foremost what I care about is making sure we've got advocates and people who fight for justice. How can we make sure that more women feel able to fight for justice? There needs to be some structural reforms. Not making women have to constantly explain, excuse, request meetings that fit around those school drop-offs and dinner times, that kind of thing.

One of the most significant experiences I have had is being the lawyer for [refugee now NZ citizen] Ahmed Zaoui – joining that case. And I had this moment where I had to make some decisions about the fight to try and get him out of solitary confinement when everybody was saying it wasn't possible. And I realised I knew what my turangawaewae was – my standing place: the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Which says that everybody is entitled to dignity, and everybody has the same rights. So I always say to people, "know your standing place." That will give you courage and hope to fight and to never give up.




Seminar: Representing Refugees in the Immigration and Protection Tribunal

Representing refugees at the Immigration and Protection Tribunal is complex and demanding and these appeals require a different skill-set from other matters before the Tribunal. This seminar will provide practical guidance on how to best represent a client from initial meetings through to appearing at a hearing.

Seminar: ADLSi, Representing Refugees in the Immigration and Protection Tribunal


Representing refugees at the Immigration and Protection Tribunal is complex and demanding and these appeals require a different skill-set from other matters before the Tribunal. This seminar will provide practical guidance on how to best represent a client from initial meetings through to appearing at a hearing.

Asylum seekers sleeping in cars, streets - advocates

But lawyers said that left them to find beds, feed them and act as social workers for vulnerable people seeking protection in New Zealand after fleeing life threatening situations in their own countries.

Barrister Maithili Sreen said in one case she tried 30 different places for a client who had slept three nights outside a church.

She said it was jeopardising their chances of getting refugee status and staying in New Zealand.

"When they don't have housing they don't have the basic needs to help them prepare for their refugee case which is so incredibly important because that determines whether they get to stay in New Zealand and have a safe future."

Refugee claimants often faced difficult, day-long interviews about their past.

"We've got victims of torture so they've being asked about their torture, sexual assaults.

"And to be able to talk about that you have to know that you've got the basics sorted," she said.

A lawyer specialising in refugee law, Deborah Manning. Photo: SUPPLIED

Lawyer Deborah Manning said homeless asylum seekers were asking for help at her office at least every two weeks, sometimes weekly.

"I know that its too much for our chambers for all of these constant social work needs that we're having to deal with, and when you've got the hostel shutting its doors, it's basically saying this is your problem now lawyers and so we're becoming a de facto hostel service for refugee claimants.

"Frankly I can't see any leadership in this sector for a solution to this problem," she said.

Secrecy deepens over passport cancellation


Internal Affairs minister Peter Dunne relied on classified security information in making his decision last May to cancel a New Zealand woman's passport. Photo/Mark Mitchell

By Matt Nippert

Secrecy has deepened over the case of a New Zealand woman who had her passport cancelled with a High Court Judge granting a belated request for name suppression.

Internal Affairs minister Peter Dunne relied on classified security information in making his decision last May to cancel her passport.

The decision was made using legislation applicable if the minister believed she was intending to facilitate or engage in terrorism in a country other than New Zealand or proliferate weapons of mass destruction.

The Melbourne-based woman's attempts to challenge the cancellation have run into a legal black hole with the High Court ruling the applicable law, passed without select committee oversight and given royal assent in only three days, says only the judge, and not her, is entitled to hear the reasons behind Dunne's decision.

The case has caused disquiet in legal circles and comes as members of the international Five Eyes spying alliance, of which New Zealand is a member and shares intelligence with allies, gather in Arrowtown for meetings.

Justice Robert Dobson, hearing challenges from the woman in the High Court at Wellington, said in a ruling her not being allowed to know what she was accused of was "an anathema to the fundamental concept of fairness", but was nonetheless what the law provided for.

High-profile barrister Deborah Manning has compared the case with that of former client Ahmed Zaoui, a refugee who successfully challenged secret claims he was a security risk to eventually become a citizen in 2014.

"The clear parallel [with Zaoui] is the use of classified information to seriously impact on the rights of an individual. The use of classified or secret information cuts across centuries of common law which says we have the right to know what we are accused of, and by whom," she said.

Manning said she hoped a detailed summary of advice behind the cancellation would be released, as was established with Zaoui, that would allow its claims to be tested.

"Often what can happen is a mystique is put over classified information. When you start using phrases like 'national security' and 'terrorism', people think it's special knowledge and should be left to the experts: But the information is far more mundane," she said.

Both Dunne and Chris Finlayson, Attorney-General and minister responsible for New Zealand's intelligence services, declined the opportunity to comment on the case citing the ongoing legal action.

Justice Dobson's ruling on the woman's unsuccessful challenge to the use of secret information in court gave leave for her to file an appeal of the cancellation by Wednesday.

In a revised ruling released this morning, Justice Dobson said he received a formal request for name suppression on April 21, a week after his ruling naming her had initially been published and publicised by the courts with a press release.

Justice Dobson granted the request, but noted "there will inevitably be reduced utility in anonymising judgements in the proceedings given the period in which the judgment, as issued, has been available".

The woman at the centre of the cases, who has represented herself at proceedings, has not responded to numerous requests for comment from the Herald during the past week.

Her connection to New Zealand, beyond citizenship and the now-cancelled passport, are unknown and a spokesman for Dunne cited privacy concerns in declining to answer question about the extent of local links.

Passport cancellation is a rare move and, according to Internal Affairs' annual reports, the department has exercised the power only 12 times in the past four years.

Asylum seekers locked up in Auckland prison – New Zealand's own Manus Island

Asylum seekers have been caught up in prison violence in the past. Following revelations of "fight clubs" at Mt Eden Prison, an asylum seeker was found to have been forced into taking part. His lawyer, Deborah Manning, complained.

"He was beaten up, had food taken away from him. He was living in fear of his life," Manning explains. 

Manning believes the policy is harsh.

"It's meant to be a deterrence but New Zealand authorities refuse to look at the issue."

Panel on the Rule of Law and Extremism

Police Superintendent Wallace Haumaha and lawyers Richard MacLeod and Deborah Manning are presenting a session on terrorism, and will also discuss New Zealanders who have been radicalised and the extra precautions required when dealing with would-be migrants from high-risk countries.
— NZ Herald, 13 August 2015,

Refugees in NZ struggling to send money home

19 April 2016

Banks need to comply with tighter laws on financial transactions, aimed at preventing terrorist financing and money laundering.

The Refugee Council says the law on money transfers is too sweeping and some refugees’ families in their home countries are suffering as a result.

Lawyer Deborah Manning, a member of the Refugee Council’s executive, said there were solutions.

”We need to sit down and talk with the relevant parties; government, banks, the communities to actually do better. It’s clear that the approach being taken is too broad brush, too wide a net, and we need to be looking at some way of doing - I don’t know if it’s case by case either for the remittances, or case by case for blocking the remittences, but certainly we need to do better on this.”
— Radio NZ,



The world refugee crisis: What is NZ's best response? in Auckland

23 February 2016

The world refugee crisis: What is NZ's best response?

All of us in New Zealand are here seeking a better life. How then should we respond to the current world crisis regarding refugees?

David Slack chairs Tracey Barnett and Deborah Manning in a discussion of this issue which affects us all.

Tracey Barnett is a national newspaper contributor and radio commentator on issues of refugees and asylum in New Zealand and Australia.

Deborah Manning is a New Zealand barrister specialising in human rights law, particularly refugee and immigration matters. She is well known for her successful representation of refugee Ahmed Zaoui.

David Slack is an author, speechwriter, and radio and TV commentator.

There is no need to RSVP to this event, simply turn up on the evening to listen to the talk.

Drinks and nibbles will be served from 7.15pm and the speakers will take the floor from 8pm.


CCH Learning - 14th Annual Immigration Law Conference

26 May 2016

CCH Learning Immigration Law Conference

Immigration Appeals: Best Practice Before the Immigration and Protection Tribunal. 
In 2015 the Tribunal issued Practice Notes for the 4 jurisdictions in which it hears appeals.  This signals a desire to improve the proper disposition of case work, and signals a need for practitioners to lift their own game.
Simon Laurent, Principal, Laurent Law; John McBride, Barrister; Deborah Manning, Barrister; Martin Treadwell,  Deputy Chair, IPT

AUT Edge Leadership in human rights and social justice seminar

14 September, 2016, AUT

Deborah Manning is a values-driven barrister who has been involved in some of New Zealand's most high profile human rights cases. She has frequently utilised law students to assist with her work in defending clients, often in opposition to the powerful and well-funded State. She is passionate about social justice and human rights, as well as providing opportunities for students.
The first step towards being an effective leader involves finding and knowing our turangawaewae/standing place. Following that, we must find our mentors, our best advisors and proactively seek out the training, expertise and support we need to lead. Deborah will outline what leadership means to her, with a view to arriving at an understanding of what great leadership looks like.

Women in Law Seminar

5 August 2016, University of Auckland

Panel discussion: Deborah Manning, Barrister, La-Verne King, Lawyer and Mediator and Ali'muamua Sandra Alofivae, Barrister.

Govt told prison no place for asylum seekers

About 10 asylum seekers are being held at Mt Eden and Waikeria remand prisons and one has been behind bars since March last year.

Immigration New Zealand said all asylum seekers in remand were there because of concerns they posed a potential security risk. It said the majority of asylum seekers were not detained in prisons.

However, Amnesty said they had committed no criminal acts in New Zealand. In some cases they had been assaulted by other prisoners.

Auckland lawyer Deborah Manning said she had represented most of the asylum seekers who had been detained in Mt Eden prison.

Her clients were vulnerable and it was no place for them, she said.

”Clients come to New Zealand full of hope, feeling as though they’ve finally found a safe place and they’re put into Mt Eden, which is frankly a hell hole...

”As time goes by, they become more and more desperate. Some become as desperate as you can get and I even had a client try and take their own life,” she said.

The government needed to look at alternatives to Mt Eden prison such as electronic monitoring or hostels, Ms Manning said
— Radion NZ, 26 February 2016

Talk 101

Panel discussion on the Rule of Law and Extremism

Police Superintendent Wallace Haumaha and lawyers Richard MacLeod and Deborah Manning are presenting a session on terrorism, and will also discuss New Zealanders who have been radicalised and the extra precautions required when dealing with would-be migrants from high-risk countries.
— NZ Herald, 13 August 2015,