Benchmark: Best practice – best evidence with vulnerable people

Plain English summary

The Benchmark Project can be accessed for free at the following address:

The Donald Beasley Institute has recently completed a project. We hope it will help people with learning disability or other communication difficulties who are involved in the legal system or who are dealing with legal issues.

One way of making sure that people get the support and assistance they need is to make sure lawyers and judges know how to communicate with disabled people.

Another way to make sure people get the support and assistance they need is to help lawyers and judges know how the legal system can provide support to people. 

In England and Wales, lawyers and judges have become better at working with people with learning disabilities by using guidelines that tell and show them how to communicate, and who they can go to for extra support.

The Benchmark project has similar guidelines so that lawyers and judges get better at representing New Zealanders with learning disability or other communication difficulties.

The project has a Steering Committee of experts and experts by experience.

The New Zealand Law Foundation and the IHC Foundation have funded this project.

The project team is Brigit Mirfin-Veitch (Donald Beasley Institute), Emily Henderson (Senior Solicitor, Henderson Reeves), Kirsten Hanna (AUT University) and Kate Diesfeld (AUT University).

About the project

The ability to recognise and respond to vulnerability within the legal system is increasingly understood as essential for quality legal representation and just outcomes. While not inherently vulnerable, some children and young people, disabled people, people experiencing mental distress and those with other communication impairments often require greater understanding and support to effectively participate in legal proceedings. Aotearoa New Zealand’s existing legal system and legislation provide scope to accommodate individuals who may be vulnerable within legal processes and proceedings. However despite their existence, these accommodations are not universally understood or applied.

The New Zealand Law Foundation and IHC Foundation have partnered to fund a new online resource for legal practitioners. Named Benchmark, this project is designed to increase awareness among legal professionals of the diverse range of vulnerable children and adults within the legal system, their specific needs, and how best to address them.

The Benchmark website consists of free, evidence-based guidelines designed to provide accessible information on best practice to aid lawyers, judges and other legal professionals to work more effectively with vulnerable witnesses and defendants. It is intended that Benchmark will have enduring impact by drawing together the latest research, case law, and policy to assist legal professionals in their work with vulnerable people. 


  • Mirfin-Veitch, B. Invited delegate, Asia Europe Federation to 16th Annual Informal Asia –Europe Seminar on Human Rights and people with disability, Beijing, China, November 8-10, 2016.
  • Mirfin-Veitch, B. Invited guest lecturer, Chinese University of Law and Politics, Beijing, China, 7 November 2016. (Topic - Disability Research).
  • Mirfin-Veitch, B. (2016, November). Learning from experience: A pragmatic approach to transforming legal practice. Presentation at the meeting of ASID New Zealand, Wellington, New Zealand.
  • Mirfin-Veitch, B. Invited speaker, Institute of Judicial Studies Seminar on “Communication in the Courtroom”, Auckland, 30 September, 2016.