10 Mar 2021

Deputy chief parliamentary counsel named New Zealand lawyer of the year

Cassie Nicholson recognised for leading the country's legal response to Covid-19

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New Zealand’s deputy chief parliamentary counsel Cassie Nicholson has been named the LawFuel New Zealand Lawyer of the Year in recognition of her efforts to handle the country’s legal response to the coronavirus pandemic.

Nicholson led the drafting of legislation to deal with the Covid-19 crisis, overseeing her team of 35 lawyers as well as working with lawyers across the public sector. That process involved rapidly drafting or amending more than 100 pieces of legislation and other legal instruments to help the country tackle the pandemic and mitigate the economic and social impacts of government-imposed lockdowns.

New Zealand shut its borders to non-residents in March last year and introduced mandatory two-week quarantine periods for citizens returning from abroad, helping contain the spread of the virus. Just 26 people have died from Covid-19 in the country, compared to more than half a million in the US and almost 125,000 in the UK.

Speaking to LawFuel, Nicholson said: “The orders themselves were unprecedented in recent times – particularly in the early days, we had some really challenging judgement calls. We also had to think carefully how to impose these stringent controls across the entire economy but still try to build in appropriate exceptions and flexibility. There were many late night Zoom conversations amongst teams of people to test multiple scenarios in different contexts.”

Nicholson has been at New Zealand’s Parliamentary Counsel Office in Wellington for more than 20 years, joining from New Zealand law firm Chapman Tripp. The Parliamentary Counsel Office is responsible for drafting government bills and legislative instruments.

One of Nicholson’s colleagues told LawFuel: “As a parliamentary counsel drafter her efforts do not often get recognised as she works behind the scenes ensuring a positive and robust footing for legal requirements. Whether it’s putting in place contingency planning for emergency resurgence or highlighting where bills and other draft instruments can be improved, she displays honesty, integrity in all her work, including the people she works with.”

Nicholson takes the title from last year’s winner Tiana Epati, who is president of New Zealand’s Law Society.