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Friday, 7 August 2009

In Pursuit of an LLB - Some News!

I have some news!!! Official as of this morning: this semester, instead of doing one of the elective papers on offer to 4th year law students, I will be undertaking Supervised Research on the question, "What does 'freedom' mean in 'freedom of religion,'" with the Academic Dean, Professor Paul Rishworth, described on the Law School's faculty page as "the country’s leading legal academic expert on the New Zealand Bill of Rights," as my supervisor!!!


I am very excited about this as it says in the student handbook that "only students who have already shown research capability will be given permission to do a supervised research paper." It also says that applications will be approved on a case by case basis and you have to have a very good grade point average to apply. I had always wanted to undertake supervised research but I never thought of applying until the Dean of Students suggested it a couple of weeks ago; I never thought of applying as I never thought I would get approval to do it.

When I began my degree back in 1993 it was very difficult. I enrolled as a 19 year old single mother. I wanted to study because I had at that point screwed up my life and I was determined to set a better example for my daughter. We were on our own. I would not just sit on welfare, I would better myself and ensure that I could provide for us.

I was living in Hamilton, my family were in Auckland so I had little support. I did not have a computer at home but back then nothing relevant was online anyway; nowadays I can sit at home and log into NexisLexis, Brookers, Westlaw, Justis and so on, back then I had to hire a babysitter and go into the law library and find the relevant volumes on the shelves. It was the same with typing assignments, I would write them in one all-nighter stint as it was cheaper to pay for one overnight babysitting session than several. As hiring babysitters cost money, I was juggling a job as well. On top of all that, I was trying to escape a violent, abusive and controlling relationship it wasn't until my second child to this man that I managed to break away from whatever was holding me there and regain my life.

In order to balance my priorities as a studying, working, single mother I made a decision early on that A's were for students who did not have my circumstances and as B's and C's get degrees that was that. It was very hard for me to decide this as I am a very driven personality who really likes to achieve but study was not the only area in my life that was important to me to achieve in, being a good parent was more important - especially given the violence my older two children had already been exposed to in their infancy.

Later when I met and married Matt things got easier. I could leave him with the kids, we had a computer, things were increasingly coming online, I cut back to part-time study and I finally allowed myself the luxury of chasing A's. But that early period cost me the grade point average necessary to even contemplate applying for areas of study such as the honours program, supervised research, masters program, etc.

On paper I did not and do not look like one of the above average students and certainly not post-graduate material. Last year when I applied to Auckland Law School (arguably the best law school in New Zealand) having had an 8 year break from Waikato Law School (arguably the worst law school in the country) with the aforementioned very average transcript I was not surprised when Auckland only reluctantly accepted me and I received a sternly worded letter at the beginning of 2008 indicating that I was in by the skin of my teeth; I was on probation, they would only accept me as a Waikato Certificate of Proficiency student and that I would have to prove myself before they would even accept me as an Auckland LLB student. Then just a month after I began study there was the car accident which as you know rendered me permanently injured, and back then, unable to attend lectures and with a sitting tolerance of 30 minutes, unable to sit through exams or do big stints at the computer.

So, to be holding in my hand today the approval to undertake the type of study that only the best law students are permitted to engage in at the best law school in the country under one of the best legal minds in the field is somewhat giddying when you consider where I have come from and the battle I have faced and overcome to get here.

Now I have the opportunity to really make my mark and open the door to the Masters of Jurisprudence that I really want to undertake, I am scared stupid I have bitten off more than I can chew! Still I am very happy.


  1. Congratulations, Madeleine!!!

    I'm very happy for you as well. :)

  2. Thanks :-) I am still working on the precise topic - we gave it a vague title to give me some room to move but it will definitely be on freedom of religion, a defence of its inclusion in public life.

  3. That's a great topic, especially since those of us who are religious, especially Christian, have something unique to offer the world.  The concept that religion should be private and not public is the begining of repression of religion, in my opinion.

  4. Absolutely. Freedom of religion and freedom to practice it is protected in our Bill of Rights and in most constitutions. However, increasingly there has been a move both from atheism and in the church state jurisprudence to nudge religious practice out of the public square.

    A good look at the dominent tests demonstrates it:- the lemon test - the state's act must be irreligious; the endorsement test - the act must not endorse religion and the coercion test is increasingly moving into looking at the left-out-feelings of those atheist students who opt out of the school song that invokes God as some form of coercion.

    Religion gets moved further and further out the door yet this was never what legislatures intended, religion is protected in most constitutions it would not hold this status if it was not meant to be viewed as something special or important that should be in the public square.

    The problem is what to do about this. To me it seems obvious that what's good for the goose is good for the gander - turn the tests back on themselves - ask how the christian student feels when state sanctioned atheism is foisted on them. If all are equal before the law and the rules are supposed to be neutral then why not? Of course the minute we do this the whole thing becomes a mess - how do you fairly balance the competing rights of the religious and the atheist in such situations? I have some ideas and thats the kind of thing I hope to explore.

  5. Congratulations, Madeleine. Happy chewing!

  6. Hey very well done Madeleine. Thats superb news. One  of the best BoR minds around... I have a freind who is doing avery similar topic in at Oxford

  7. Good on ya, mate.  No pressure, but we are expecting big things!

  8. Subtle reference to a certain movie that was recently on TV there?

  9. Thanks everyone. I have begun reading for it and will just keep chipping away til I am there. I had a momentary freakout today when I realised that this thing has to be 25-30 pages of tightly argued well supported and referenced text.

    Still like Matt says if I think of it in terms of our standard length, more hefty blog posts it is about 5 - 6 blog posts. That is doable but the deadline feels so close - 30 Oct I think.

    Not sure what movie you mean ScrubOne - The Pursuit of Happiness?

  10. congratulations, great news

  11. Congratulations, this is wonderful!

  12. That's wonderful!  I'll be cheering you on.  I have a J.D. from Harvard Law School and fourteen years practice defending the constitutional rights of homeschoolers, which took me very deep into the legal theory of religious freedom and parental rights.  (I argue that parental rights are more like religious liberties than any other category, because parents tend to treat their children as "matters of ultimate concern," to quote the US Supreme Court functional definition of religion.)

    I'd love to keep in touch as you do your research!


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