Whangarei lawyer Emily Henderson, who attended the city's Tikipunga High School, has won New Zealand's most prestigious law research prize to research the reform of cross-examination, particularly in relation to children.
The award is the New Zealand Law Foundation 2012 research fellowship, valued at up to $125,000.
Dr Henderson will do the research at Oxford or Cambridge University next year and says she is delighted to be returning to the UK for six months with husband and fellow lawyer Thomas Biss and their four children, possibly to Cambridge where she obtained her PhD in 2001.
She says they returned to Whangarei to give their children, aged 12, 9, 7, and 5, a "Kiwi egalitarian upbringing" and be near family. "We love it here and have no desire to be anywhere else, but we are all very excited about living in Cambridge for six months. The children are all avidly interested in travel and archaeology."
Dr Henderson is the daughter of Whangarei lawyer Stuart Henderson and Patsy Henderson, child therapist and director of the Miriam Centre for counselling and family support. Mr Biss is a partner in law firm Henderson Reeves Connell Rishworth.
Minister of Justice Judith Collins presented the award at the foundation's annual awards dinner, held at Parliament's Grand Hall.
Dr Henderson, who recently completed two years as a crown prosecutor in Whangarei, is an honorary research fellow at Auckland University's Department of Psychology and is completing a study of expert witnesses with Professor Fred Seymour.
She is the first female recipient of the 10-year-old fellowship.
Dr Henderson's PhD was awarded for her thesis Cross-Examination: A Critical Examination. This follows her Masters of Jurisprudence degree with distinction from Auckland University in 1997 for her thesis "Reckless Disregard", Cross-Examining Child Witnesses in Sexual Abuse Trials.
She said she was keen to find out what is being done in England in relation to the cross-examination of child witnesses, and knew people there were interested in some ideas being developed in New Zealand, particularly recording children's evidence before a court case, using expert interviewers. Cross examination of children was often poor and there were often delays of 18 months to two years or longer in holding trials.
"For some children this represents quarter of their lifetimes and then they are subjected to cross examination," Dr Henderson said.