Benchmark Initiative

The ability to recognise and respond to vulnerability within the legal system is imperative to quality legal representation and just outcomes. While all people can experience vulnerability, some groups are recognised as being particularly vulnerable in the legal context. Responsive practice and necessary accommodations will be more universally applied through greater awareness of the diverse range of people who may be vulnerable within the legal system, their specific needs, and how best to address them. Funded by the New Zealand Law Foundation and the IHC Foundation, Benchmark provides a range of tools that legal professionals can use to ensure that vulnerable people are fully included in the legal issues and proceedings that concern them. 

The Benchmark Project has been led by Dr Emily Henderson, Dr Brigit Mirfin-Veitch, Professor Kate Diesfeld, and Dr Kirsten Hanna, who have been ably assisted at all stages by Ms Lydie Schmidt and Ms Niha Jalota. 

The Benchmark Project Team gratefully acknowledges:

Dame Joyce Plotnikoff DBE and Dr Richard Woolfson, who initiated similar work in England and Wales. Dame Plotnikoff and Dr Woolfson provided the impetus for an Aotearoa New Zealand initiative, waived the copyright on their original Lexicon toolkits and generously mentored the project team throughout the development of this website. 

Her Honour Judge Anne Kiernan, who has worked tirelessly to promote best practice, and who meticulously reviewed the final body of work.

The Benchmark Steering Committee, who provided the original direction for the project, contributed individual expertise on specific Benchmark topics, and were involved in the final review of the guidelines. 

Guideline writers, contributors, and reviewers who have willingly shared their knowledge and expertise to enable the development of best practice guidelines. 


Benchmark Design  

The takitoru design used in Māori lattice-style art form called tukutuku symbolises communication, relationships, and identity.

Three alternating stitches that can differ in angle, colour, and direction are used to create the takitoru pattern. The symbolism of the three stitches encompasses the essential components of communication: presenting, receiving and responding. Communication can influence relationships, therefore, this pattern reminds us all to respect both modes of communication and the intended key messages. Takitoru also acknowledges the identity of communicators, how they communicate, with whom they communicate with, and how this communication is actioned.

This Māori art form and design is consistent with the central aim of Benchmark; to promote equal access to justice through responsive practice with witnesses and defendants who may be vulnerable in the legal system.