Law camp reinstated but cleaned up

Prof Jessica Palmer. Photo: Otago University
Prof Jessica Palmer. Photo: Otago University
Otago University's law camp is back - with strict new rules around nudity and drinking.

The camp for second-year law students came under scrutiny early last year amid claims the event typically involved excessive drinking, inappropriate behaviour by students and nudity.

The weekend camp used to be held every March but was eventually scrapped last year due to a lack of support from the pro-vice chancellor and the university.

The Society of Otago University Law Students (Souls) confirmed the event was going ahead this year - though it would be a sanitised version compared with previous years.

A statement from Souls about the event said changes included doubling the number of camp leaders. Each group would be led by a male and a female. Leaders would be required to stay sober.

There was a "clear expectation'' there would be no nudity over the course of the event, nor any jelly wrestling or similar event.

"These are changes Souls believes remedies many of the concerns from previous Law Camps,'' the statement read.

Prof Jessica Palmer, who was appointed Dean of the University's law faculty in May last year, has worked closely with the Souls executive committee and proctor's office to help implement changes.

The event would provide a welcoming and safe environment for attending students, she said, in which they could bond and form strong friendships.

"We are all committed to building a positive and healthy culture within the Law Faculty.''

The camp for second-year law students had been an annual event for the past decade, before its cancellation last year.

An independent review - conducted by David Sims, of Downie Steward Lawyers - released in December found the law camp had been a "deeply disturbing and unpleasant'' experience for some students.

He found no evidence of criminal behaviour or sexual misconduct but found drunkenness and sexualised behaviour was "commonplace''.

Media reports last year revealed former law faculty dean Mark Henaghan usually attended the events.

He had been at the 2014 camp when students stripped in a talent quest skit. Weeks after the revelations, he announced leaving his role, after 19 years. He takes up a lecturing post at Auckland University this year.

The controversy around the University of Otago's law school came as the culture of the wider legal profession in New Zealand came under intense scrutiny.

Allegations male Russell McVeagh employees engaged in sexual acts with female interns prompted all six of New Zealand's law schools to cut ties with the firm.

Russell McVeagh chief executive Gary McDiarmid confirmed receiving "serious allegations'' about events in Wellington more than two years ago, involving students in the firm's summer law-clerk programme.

Victoria University's vice-chancellor Grant Guilford confirmed allegations involved several of its students.

A young law clerk student, part of a summer programme, had made an allegation of sexual assault.

Guilford said the university had since worked with Russell McVeagh and others to make major changes to the clerkship programme.

A former employee last year told the Herald on Sunday senior managers at the firm had ignored repeated warnings about the behaviour and the drinking culture. 

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