Toni Collins

'I enjoy UC because it has beautiful grounds, it has atmosphere and it has so many resources...'

  • Toni Collins

Bachelor of Laws with Honours

Master of Laws with Honours

PhD in Law

Lecturer, University of Canterbury

The experiences that Toni and her family underwent during the Canterbury earthquakes led her Law studies in an unforeseen direction, one which she pursued with great passion.

‘I was near the epicentre for the September quake, and in a building in Latimer Square for the February one,’ says Toni. ‘My husband was trapped in his building for several hours and my daughters had a traumatic time at their school.

‘I am passionate about assisting in whatever way I can with earthquake recovery and the aim of my research was to propose a better body of law that will provide certainty for those dealing with the effects of a natural disaster and the chaos that such events bring.’

Toni's research is focused on the plight of commercial tenants and landlords after the quakes, particularly the effects of the central business district having been made a red zone, and therefore inaccessible for a prolonged period.

‘Landlords and tenants were confronted with situations they had never experienced before,’ says Toni. ‘The common form of commercial building lease in Christchurch had not adequately provided for these circumstances, and in many cases parties had to rely on the general law – but this in itself is unclear.’

Acting on anecdotal evidence that suggests the law governing commercial leases had not been effective since the earthquakes, Toni's research examined the current law and its effectiveness in providing legal remedies for landlords and tenants in these unusual circumstances.

‘This situation gave rise to the following questions: did tenants have to pay rent for buildings they could not access? Could either party terminate the lease in these unusual circumstances? Unfortunately the law was unclear: the leases did not provide for this situation, nor did the legislation.

‘My research looked at whether a legal doctrine, the doctrine of frustration, could apply in these circumstances to bring the leases to an end. I concluded it could, and should, have applied as a solution to this problem,’ says Toni.

‘New Zealand should learn from Canterbury's experiences and ensure robust law is in place for when the next disaster strikes because our location on the Pacific Rim of Fire makes this very much a case of when and not if.’

According to Toni, her PhD was not without its challenges. ‘I did my master’s degree by coursework which gave me some experience in writing research papers, but a PhD is quite different in terms of the depth of study required and its length, so it was definitely a new experience for me.

‘The people of Canterbury have been through extraordinary events that changed our lives forever,’ says Toni. ‘But I love this region, I love the scenery – the snowy mountains rising above the Canterbury plains. I love Sumner, Lyttelton, Hanmer and Akaroa, the fact that you can go skiing for a day trip and enjoy rivers and the sea in summer and of course, the choice of cafés and restaurants.

‘I enjoy UC because it has beautiful grounds, it has atmosphere and it has so many resources to help students in so many different ways. I love the new cafés, the university bookshop and the friendliness of the people. I feel safe at UC.

‘I'm also really grateful for the dedication of the staff and the amount of help and assistance I received with my study. My supervisors always went the "extra mile" for me and prioritised my research by quickly turning around of work and being available to meet with me as often as I needed them.’

Toni was thankful to later become a part of the teaching staff at UC, lecturing and tutoring Land Law. Her continued research interests include areas of environmental and disaster law.

To students contemplating similar studies Toni advises: ‘In the aftermath of the earthquakes there have been numerous legal issues that have come to light that have found the law wanting in a number of areas. I would encourage anyone passionate about earthquake recovery to come to UC, which is at the forefront of research into earthquake issues, to assist with law reform for the benefit of New Zealand – and in doing so, further their own education.’

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