School of Law


Project Number: 2019-33

Project Leader: Karen Scott

Host Department: School of Law

Project Title: United Nations SGD 14 (Life Below Water) and the Law of the Sea

Project outline: Sustainable Development Goal (2015) 14, titled ˜life below water" and adopted by the UN General Assembly in 2015 has as its objective the conservation and sustainable use of the oceans and its resources.  It comprises 10 targets with accompanying indicators.  Targets range from broad, overarching policy objectives to more specific goals with associated deadlines. 

All of these goals are embedded in the law of the sea, broadly defined, and this is reflected in SDG 14.C, which calls upon states to enhance the conservation and sustainable use of oceans and their resources by implementing international law as reflected in the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), which provides the legal framework for the conservation and sustainable use of the oceans.  However, not all goals fall squarely within existing regimes or under the mandate of existing institutions.  For example, there is as yet no set of rules that specifically provide standards in respect of ocean acidification or marine debris.  Moreover, at least two goals overlap with the mandates of institutions outside the law of the sea: ocean acidification and the 1992 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and fishing subsidies and the WTO. 

This project will explore SDG 14 in the context of the modern law of the sea.  It will critically analyse the extent to which existing institutions and regimes provide a supportive framework for achieving the goals, noting that a number of goals have an ambitious target of being achieved by 2020.  It will ask whether and to what extent, the ambitious goals with respect to fisheries management are influencing the policies of selected RFMOs.  It will explore linkages and connections with other regimes, paying particular attention to the disconnect between the law of the sea and the climate change regime that has allowed the issue of ocean acidification to fall between those regimes.  It will ask whether the 'bottom up' approach embodied in the 2015 Paris Agreement as exemplified by nationally determined contributions, provides an opportunity to address SDG 14.3.  A similar 'bottom up' approach appears to be emerging with respect to marine debris and, in particular, plastics.  This project will discuss the implications of a potential shift from global to local and ask whether this is a positive development for the law of the sea. 

Benefits to the student are outlined in the next section.

 Specific Requirements: Benefit to the Student - the student will obtain experience: in the collection, selection and organisation of primary and secondary sources of international legal materials including UN documents; in report writing where material is synthesized, analyzed and evaluated, requiring the student to draw critical conclusions; and in participating in project meetings and the presentation of preliminary findings.  The student will be acknowledged in any published work and may be credited with co-authorship depending on the standard of the work produced.

A background in Law and preferably international law is required.  Preference will be given to candidates with experience of or an interest in international environmental law or the law of the sea. 


Project Number: 2019-68

Project Leader: Toni Collins

Host Department: School of Law

Project Title: The effects of the 2016 North Canterbury earthquake on commercial landlords and tenants in Wellington and Kaikoura.

Project outline: The North Canterbury earthquake in 2016 was a large and extremely damaging one. It caused landslips to the state highway both north and south of the small seaside settlement of Kaikoura which cut access to the town. In Wellington the earthquake caused damage to a number of commercial buildings which were cordoned and/or demolished. The effects of the shake continue to be felt with buildings being closed as a consequence, many months or years later. Two recent examples of buildings now considered to be earthquake-prone as assessed against the New Building Standard are the Wellington Central Library in March and the Wellington Railway Station in September 2019. The Central Library has been closed as a result. The effects of the North Canterbury earthquake differ from that of the Canterbury earthquakes in 2010/2011 in that Kaikoura became inaccessible for a period and then suffered from restricted access for many months. In Wellington the central business district did not become inaccessible as it did in Christchurch from the blanket 'red zone' cordon; rather the cordoning was done very specifically around damaged or dangerous buildings rather than whole areas. Unlike Christchurch, Wellington city did not declare a state of emergency which meant the powers under New Zealand's emergency legislation could not be utilised.

While research has been carried out on how commercial landlords and tenants were affected by the Canterbury earthquakes, little is known about the effect of the 2016 North Canterbury earthquake on commercial landlords and tenants in Kaikoura and Wellington. This project will look into the legal issues that affected commercial landlords and tenants in Kaikoura and Wellington, as comparative research with that done on Christchurch. Did the Wellington parties experience the same issues with their leases? Were their different issues that arose and what were they? Was the decision not to cordon beneficial to the parties, or not? Was the law effective to assist with these problems or is change needed?

The student will be given an opportunity to research the legal issues, analyse the problems with reference to the current law, identify any gaps and suggest solutions if required. The student may also wish to research a recent flooding or fire in Australia to compare commerical leases in another jurisdiction and the protection they afford landlords and tenants in a natural disaster to discover whether there is anything we can learn from their experiences. It is anticipated that this project will result in a co-authored article by the student and project leader.

The material gathered by the student will also contribute to an ongoing project around commercial leases and how effective they are in a natural disaster and what can be done to improve them in a way that will make landlords and tenants more resilient by clarifying their legal rights and responsibilities after a natural disaster. This research will also be useful for a project that is being done through the School of Law's Disaster Research Group (that involves 4 academics, 3 senior) and QuakeCoRE (which has a large number of academics from various Universities and is interdisciplinary research in groups) to make Wellington city more resilient to earthquakes and further funding is being sought to extend our research in this area.

Specific Requirements: Students must have successfully completed all LAWS 200 subjects.

Preference will be given to those with strong grades in LAWS 205 (Land Law), or who have completed papers ( in Law or in other disciplines) that contain relevant subject matter) for example LAWS 393 (Advanced Land LAW).

An interest in the subject matter is essential.

Students should demonstrate an interest in postgraduate study.



Project Number: 2019-86

Project Leader: Annick Masselot

Host Department: Law

Project Title: New Zealand Feminist External Relations

Project outline: New Zealand (NZ), a small and relatively isolated state, brands itself as a neutral country in global affairs. Yet NZ has often been seen as a heavy weight in the world, as illustrated by its 1980's nuclear free stance and recent election to the United Nations Security Council, the latter campaign played heavily on this unbiased 'good guy' small state image.

The appointment of Jacinda Ardern as Prime Minister (PM) of NZ in 2017 and her actions domestically and on the international scene have fed into global media attention on New Zealand. For example, images projected of the PM include:

- Wearing the Kahu huruhuru (Maori clock) whilst pregnant at Buckingham Palace

- Bringing her baby Neve to the United Nations

- Wearing a veil while visiting and hugging the victims of the Christchurch attack

In turn, it is arguable that this has contributed to a shift in the external perception of NZ. It is also possible that these actions and images of Ardern could change the nature of perceptions of NZ and NZ foreign policy. Concurrently, NZ appears to be strengthening its relationship with NATO, highlighted by the recent (and arguably under-reported) visit by the NATO Secretary General to NZ which focused on the Christchurch Attacks and international terrorism while also emphasised gender perspectives/the Women, Peace and Security agenda.

This project proposes to measure external perceptions of NZ as a peace and security actor in order to assess whether there has been a shift of external perceptions of NZ from a neutral small state to a feminist, post-colonial and intersectional state?.

The research puzzle that drives this project can be summarised with three primary questions:

1. Has action from the leadership in NZ contributed to a shift in external perception?

2. Does celebrity status impact external perception in the short and long-term?

3. Does the shift in external perceptions of NZ reflect a change on the policy (feminist, intersectional policy)?

This research is based on the emerging literature on feminist foreign policy (Wright 2019; Bára Ómarsdóttir 2010) and will use an established methodology in order to provide a detailed analysis of external media images of the PM.

The project is part of an international collaboration (UoNewcastle, UoIceland and UoLund) and will result in the publication of an article for a special issue on the perception of the gendering of external actions through the use of celebrity

 Specific Requirements: The student will work on gathering and coding media data.

Ideally, the student would have experience in qualitative research and coding on NVivo or equivalent. Knowledge of EU studies / media analysis / feminist legal study would be an advantage.

It is expected that the student who will work on this project will be incorporated into the project in such a way as to develop a networking with feminist legal scholars and external perception scholars. The idea is to build and foster a community of interdisciplinary scholars and practitioners who will be able to related and work with one another in longer terms. This project is part of a larger international project which is expected to generate further international research funding project. It is expected that any student working on this project will further be integrated to other larger funded international projects in the same area. It is expected that the student will be associated to the conference presentations and publications resulting from this project.




Project Number: 2019-91

Project Leader: Elizabeth Macpherson

Host Department: Business and Law

Project Title: Ecosystem Based Management of New Zealand's Marine and Coastal Area - Options for Legal and Policy Reform

Project outline: The student will undertake a research project over summer, in which the student will investigate options for legal and policy reform to improve ecosystem based management of New Zealand's marine and coastal area. This is an important challenge facing New Zealand, and the student will have the opportunity of participating in research that looks at how better to manage our marine areas in the face of growing concerns about pollution and overexploitation, and the impact of climate change and biodiversity loss. The student will explore options for transformative change of existing legal frameworks, via domestic and comparative international research.

The student's research will be presented as a literature review, which will provide critical background and context for a range of co-authored research outputs. It is intended that the literature review will be included in formal publications: reports and/or peer reviewed journal articles and the student's contribution will be properly recognised in all resulting outputs, including via co-authorship.

The student will benefit directly by working alongside the Project Leader, attending research meetings, preparing publications, and participating in broader discussions with stakeholders about the research project. The student will be exposed to a number of experts on ecosystem marine management from around New Zealand, including leading New Zealand legal experts involved in a strategic advisory board on marine reform. The student will also benefit indirectly from 'on-the-job' training around the conduct of academic research, the practicalities of working with external funders, participating in research hui and workshops, exposure to the process of research co-development and kaupapa Maori research, writing and referencing skills and the use of technology (including cloud-based document management systems and referencing software Zotero).

The student will be actively supervised by the Project Leader and treated as a valued colleague, while supporting the progress and outputs of the research project. The Project Leader will mentor the student and support her/him in pursuing a research career, including via reporting and references. The student will have the opportunity, via the research project, to subsequently be involved in the Sustainable Seas National Science Challenge Project 4.2 to commence in 2020: Options for Law, Policy and Practice to enable Ecosystem Based Management of the Marine and Coastal Areas.

Specific Requirements: Final year of an LLB