News Item

December 2014

2014 International Research Fellowship Awarded to Dunedin Barrister

Alison Douglass, Dunedin Barrister and Convenor of the New Zealand Law Society’s Health Law Committee, has been awarded the 2014 New Zealand Law Foundation International Research Fellowship.

Mental Capacity: Updating the Law and Practice is the title of her research project.

The aim of her research, which she will conduct in New Zealand and England, is to review the law concerning mental capacity in New Zealand.

“The research will examine changes in England following the Mental Capacity Act 2005 and its Code of Practice,” Ms Douglass says.

“The specific research question is: How is the current legal process working in law and practice and what changes are needed to the law governing mental capacity in New Zealand to ensure consistency with contemporary thinking and best practice standards.

“In New Zealand, there is no specific guidance for medical or legal practitioners and others in this field, yet incapacity permeates all aspects of law and healthcare practice,” Ms Douglass says.

“Despite the importance of mental capacity and the issues at stake, there has been no review or analysis of the legal framework as it affects people with diminished capacity in the health system.”

This research is “particularly important” now because of the aging population and the increasing prevalence of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.

To date there has been no analysis of how patients’ rights under the Code of Rights fits within the adult guardianship law under the Protection of Personal and Property Rights Act 1988.

“There is a clear need for New Zealand law and policy to catch up with current thinking and practice in this area,” she says.

Ms Douglass, who has practised for over 25 years, specialises in health and disability law.

She has a Masters in Bioethics and Health Law from Otago University, where she is an adjunct senior lecturer at the Bioethics Centre. She is acting chair of the Advisory Committee on Assisted Reproductive Technologies to the Minister of Health.

The New Zealand Law Foundation’s International Research Fellowship Te Karahipi Rangahau ā Taiao is New Zealand’s premier legal research award, valued at up to $125,000 each year.

The fellowship is open to legal practitioners, academics, judges, government officials, and other persons with high ability.  The award enables the recipient to pursue a research interest in New Zealand or overseas that is of substantial public importance, and of such significance that the results of the research might be expected to lead to reform or betterment of the laws of New Zealand.

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