News Item

August 2015

2015 Law Foundation Ethel Benjamin Scholarship Winners

Two young lawyers Stephanie Thompson and Rebecca Thomson are winners of this year’s New Zealand Law Foundation Ethel Benjamin Scholarship.


Stephanie Thompson joint winner of 2015 Ethel Benjamin Award

Stephanie Thompson graduated from Auckland University with an LLB (Hons) and a BA, obtaining the Dean’s Academic Excellence Award for Law and a Senior Scholar Award from the Faculty of Arts.

Stephanie plans to study towards an LLM at Cambridge University in 2016. Her courses will focus on international trade and foreign direct investment. Her dissertation will be entitled Taking Account of Investor Fault in International Treaty Arbitration.

Stephanie says that investment treaties originated as instruments to protect investors, but increasingly states are questioning whether the balance has moved too far in favour of investors. The issue is particularly relevant to New Zealand, as we have witnessed widespread public protests against entering the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a proposed investment treaty with 11 states, including Australia, Canada, Japan, Singapore and the United States.

In her research, Stephanie plans to investigate the theoretical principles underpinning investor fault doctrines such as contributory negligence, and demonstrate why at a normative level it is appropriate for tribunals to apply them. She plans to draw together instances in which tribunals have already applied these doctrines. The final stage of her research will be to develop a clear framework for addressing investor fault.

At the time of this award she was working as a junior barrister at Bankside Chambers in Auckland, and tutoring at the Auckland University Law Faculty, teaching law and society, legal method and equity. In 2014 Stephanie was the Junior Barrister Representative on the New Zealand Bar Association Council.


Rebecca Thomson joint winner of 2015 Ethel Benjamin Award

Rebecca Thomson graduated from Otago University in 2010 with an LLB (Hons) and BA (Hons) in Philosophy and Political Studies.

Rebecca will study towards an LLM at Columbia University in 2015. Her proposed research project is entitled New Zealand’s Crown Solicitor Network: ethical and practical concerns.

Rebecca says there are two primary concerns with engaging private lawyers to act as prosecutors. The first is philosophical: the state abdicating its sovereign power to coerce citizens who breach the criminal code. Rebecca will look at the question as to whether the state can “delegate such a basic function while complying with its basic obligation to protect the rights of its citizens. Is the delegation of a fragment of sovereignty consistent with the state’s continued sovereignty?” The second concern is practical. “Allowing a private lawyer to take on the state’s power to enforce laws raises a moral hazard: how is that lawyer to be held accountable? What mechanisms will ensure quality decision-making and prevent abuses of power?”

Rebecca’s research will focus on both the constitutional problem, which requires an answer in the realm of political philosophy, and practical solutions for the “practical” problem.

At the time of this award Rebecca was a solicitor at Meredith Connell, and a tutor for public laws at Auckland University. From 2010 to 2011 she was a judge’s clerk to Justice Tipping in the Supreme Court, as well as being a tutor for legal research and writing at Victoria University in 2011. In 2015 Rebecca won a Pegasus Scholarship to the Inner Temple, London, and in 2009 she won the Otago District Law Society Prize for general excellence throughout a law degree.


The Law Foundation established the Ethel Benjamin Scholarship in 1997 to mark the centenary of the admission of Ethel Benjamin as the first woman barrister and solicitor in New Zealand. Since the centenary, the Law Foundation has awarded this scholarship annually to outstanding New Zealand women law graduates for post-graduate study. Thirtyfour exceptional young women lawyers have benefited from receiving this scholarship to date. The award is worth up to $50,000. Details of the award and previous winners can be found on the Foundation’s website.