The 3rd National Rural Law and Justice Conference, hosted by the National Rural Law and Justice Alliance, was held at Charles Sturt University in Orange on 3-4 July. The theme of the conference was “Reframing Rurality: Driving Innovation in Rural Justice.”
The Centre is a member of the National Rural Law and Justice Alliance, Australia’s first peak non-government organisation for regional, rural and remote (RRR) law and justice and our Project Officer, Dan Jacobs, sits on the Alliance’s Council to provide a pro bono perspective.
A diverse program
The National Rural Law and Justice Alliance is comprised of members from a broad range of backgrounds including the community legal sector, academia, not-for-profit organisations, the private legal profession and the medical profession. The diversity of the Alliance’s membership was reflected in the Conference program.
The Hon. Chris Kourakis, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of South Australia and Patron of the Alliance, gave the opening address which discussed the difficulties in providing equal access to justice to those living in RRR areas, touched on the value of justice reinvestment and highlighted the important pro bono contribution that RRR lawyers make in their communities.
The theme of justice reinvestment continued with Sarah Hopkins, Chair of Just Reinvest and a solicitor with the Aboriginal Legal Service NSW/ACT, who gave a presentation on the innovative community led approach being taken in Bourke to create a safer community by using justice reinvestment to reduce the number of Aboriginal children who end up in prison.
The unacceptably high rate of Indigenous incarceration was a common thread throughout sessions at the Conference. Ms Hopkins also spoke about the role that collective impact has to play in projects of this nature. For more information on justice reinvestment visit Just Reinvest NSW’s website.
A Brazilian perspective
Professor Leslie Sherida Ferraz from Brazil gave the keynote address for the first day on “Brazilian Itinerant Justice: An Effective Model to Improve Access to Justice in Remote Areas?” As the fifth largest country in the World Brazil faces many of the same geographic obstacles that Australia faces. The distance and isolation that results has a similar negative impact on access to justice.
Professor Ferraz described two unique projects in Brazil used to facilitate access to justice. The first project Professor Ferraz spoke about was the establishment of a circuit court housed on six buses that travel to 20 isolated locations each week to provide direct access to justice. The buses service six favelas and five rural areas on set days of the week which allows residents to have their matter heard by a judge.
The second project that Professor Ferraz spoke about was located in the very remote area of Bailique. The project was established by a Brazilian judge dedicated to access to justice. After seeing the community’s inability to access justice in this region she decided to bring justice to them in the form of the Tribuna, a boat staffed by judges, doctors, engineers and psychologists. Having these experts all on hand allowed the judges to reach decisions promptly.
Innovation through technology
Innovation through the use of technology was at the heart of the Conference. Dr Caroline Hart presented on the “Government use of Information Technology and the Impact on Rural, Regional and Remote Legal Practitioners” and the need for government to develop a rural access to justice strategy plan.
The Centre’s Senior Policy Officer, Afton Fife, presented on “Pro bono legal services via video conferencing: Opportunities and challenges.” The Centre’s paper focused on the lessons learned from the Centre’s own video conferencing pilot project and three other NBN Regional Legal Assistance projects that harnessed video conferencing to facilitate the provision of pro bono or free legal services. The paper also examined pilot projects in the US and UK.
A recurrent theme arising in most discussions regarding technology at the Conference was that while it may assist in facilitating access to justice it should not be seen as a replacement for face to face services.
Family and Domestic Violence
Antoinette Braybrook, the CEO of the Family Violence Prevention Legal Service, gave the keynote address for the second day of the conference: “Seeking Justice for Women who are Victims/Survivors of Family Violence in Rural and Remote areas.” Ms Braybrook commented on the multiple factors that impact on the trauma of family violence including the misconception that it is ‘easy to leave’, the scarcity of crisis accommodation and the intimidating nature of the court process. The importance of adequately funding key services and the impact that a lack of funding can have, for example on the rate of incarceration of Indigenous women, were also addressed.
Ms Braybrook’s session was followed by “Smart Lawyering” presented by Elisa Whittaker (Women’s Legal Services Victoria), Alex Davis (Women’s Legal Services NSW) and Phoebe Kahlo (Women’s Legal Services Qld). Each of the presenters demonstrated the innovative projects that their services have developed to facilitate access to justice for women, particularly those at risk of domestic or family violence. Please take a look at their projects here:
- Ask Lois (legal information and webinars for community workers in NSW, by Women’s Legal Service NSW)
- Re-focus (smartphone app for women leaving their partners, by Women’s Legal Service Qld)
- Link (virtual outreach program via Skype, Women’s Legal Service Vic)
Medical Legal Partnerships
Chris Speldewinde from the Centre for Rural Regional Law and Justice at Deakin University presented on “Medical Legal Partnerships: An Option for Breaking the Cycle of Mental Health Issues and Legal Problems.” Mr Speldewinde’s presentation discussed the positive benefits that can be achieved when medical and legal professionals work together in medical-legal or health-justice partnerships. The Centre for Rural Regional Law and Justice is currently conducting research on a partnership in the Barwon region. Contact between health and legal professionals and their clients is facilitated through a weekly lunch program. The discussion after the presentation benefited from contributions by both legal and health professionals.
The inaugural National Rural Law and Justice Alliance Innovation in Rural Justice Awards
The Conference Dinner at the Hotel Canobolas marked the presentation of the inaugural National Rural Law and Justice Alliance Innovation in Rural Justice Awards. The Centre congratulates Women’s Legal Service Inc (Queensland), winner of the Innovation in rural and regional legal practice award), the Maranguka Justice Reinvestment Project (Bourke NSW), winner of the innovation in rural and regional community justice award) and JobVoice (Social Security Rights Victoria), winner of the transformative use of technology award in law award.
The Centre congratulates the Alliance on an energising and informative conference. The conference papers will shortly be available on the Alliance’s website.