Impact and Engagement
Newcastle Law School plays a pivotal role in promoting access to justice. This is achieved through deep engagement with local, state, national, and international communities; academic, as well as applied and evidence-based research focused on improving the capability and capacity of the justice system and minimising barriers to access; the promotion of clarity and fairness through public interest advocacy and test cases; and other clinical work performed by the University of Newcastle Legal Centre. Some examples of the high impact work undertaken by Newcastle Law School can be found below.
The University of Newcastle Legal Centre
The development of the University of Newcastle Legal Centre (UNLC) in 1995 reflected the University of Newcastle’s commitment to engage with and support the local community and embedded an applied research arm within Newcastle Law School that drives academic research involving Newcastle Law School staff.
The UNLC provides support to more than 3000 community members each year. From January 2011 to December 2016, the UNLC provided legal advice on 4063 occasions, opened 1444 legal files, fielded 11 520 telephone enquiries regarding legal assistance, and provided 4284 hours of face-to-face legal advice.
The UNLC researched and developed the “Know the Law” app which is a free online resource that provides legal information tailored to international students facing legal issues. More information can be found here.
The UNLC takes on major cases that have significant public interest value. For example, from 2011 to 2016, Newcastle Law School researcher and legal practitioner, Jacquie Svenson, conducted public interest cases concerning the Crown Lands Act and development applications representing more than 4000 community members. The impact of Svenson’s work extended beyond the local community when the test cases and Svenson’s further research were used to advise the New South Wales Parliament on amendments to the Crown Lands Act. Further examples of past public interest and test cases supported by the UNLC can be found here.
Newcastle Law School is one of Australia’s leading clinical law schools. Intensive clinical placements undertaken at the UNLC expose students to real problem-based learning experiences and legal and social issues that provide a context for the practice of law. This supports future lawyers to become career ready and responsive to access to justice issues. More information about Newcastle Law School’s Legal Practice Program can be found here.
Newcastle Law School scholars’ extensive research builds upon the work undertaken by the UNLC. Issues that arise in relation to vulnerable populations, including the elderly, remote communities, people living with a disability, and vulnerable international populations, are used to inform systematic access to justice research that has real world impact. For example, Sarah Breush’s engagement with the local community through the UNLC guided her research into elder abuse, which resulted in submissions to a New South Wales Parliamentary Inquiry into Elder Abuse. Breush was cited extensively in the Final Report and her submissions and oral testimony were used to shape and support recommendations for reform.
More information about the University of Newcastle Legal Centre can be found here.
Evidence- Based Law Priority Research Initiative
The Faculty of Business and Law’s 2014 creation and 2015/16 funding and development of an evidence-based law Priority Research Initiative reshaped the research approach across Newcastle Law School, ensuring that a focus on doctrinal research was complemented by evidence- based approaches to justice reform. The PRI organised research activity around four thematic areas and enabled real world impacts:
Newcastle Law School academics have assisted in the development of legal education nationally and internationally, with projects in Myanmar, Vietnam and Thailand funded by ADB and USAID and presented papers to the Society of Legal Scholars.
Developing Clinical Legal Education
Scholars within the School have evaluated and explored a range of clinical education strategies that include the use of clinical immersions, practical placement activities, professional identification and the changing nature of the professions.
Innovations in Judging
As the co convener of a Collaborative Research Network set up under the auspices of the international Law and Society Association, Professor Tania Sourdin brings together more than 80 academics and judges to explore judicial innovation and education. The group meets annually and also convenes mini conferences each year focusing on international book projects (The Multi Tasking Judge (Thomson Reuters), The Responsive Judge (Springer) evidence-based approaches to evaluating judicial innovation and considering issues in judging that are linked to bias, authority, ethics and comparative approaches.
Choosing Wisely- Associate Professor Nola Ries
Engagement with the local community through the University of Newcastle Legal Centre revealed that the local community was experiencing legal issues with medical treatment and consent. As a result, in 2015/16 Associate Professor Ries contributed to the Choosing Wisely initiative, an international campaign to improve clinician’s understanding of the law, reduce defensive medical practice, and improve consent processes. Associate Professor Ries’s research led to a national showcase of clinician’s initiatives which included seminars with more than 80 medical practitioners about assessing capacity and using data to ensure that decision making is informed by legal research.
Parent Experiences- Dr Nicola Ross
The PRI encouraged and enabled Dr Ross’ research into the experiences of parents whose children had been removed and placed in out-of-home care. The research focused on parents' experiences of legal processes and proceedings and of opportunities to participate in their children's care, while their children were in out-of-home care.
Life Imprisonment- Associate Professor John Anderson
Associate Professor Anderson’s research and ongoing advice has been used to test the efficacy of life imprisonment against human rights principles. His work has had both national and international impacts. His 2012 article on life imprisonment ultimately led to a special leave application in the High Court of Australia. He is also the Australian member of the Life Imprisonment Worldwide team. This project received significant funding from the Leverhulme Trust. In advocating for reform, the team developed a policy briefing document from international data collated over 2014 and 15. It was presented to the UN Crime Commission in 2016.
Advocating for Abolition of the Death Penalty- Dr Amy Maguire
In 2016, as part of her ongoing commentary and research into Australia’s international interaction with the death penalty, Dr Maguire researched and made submissions to the Federal Parliamentary Inquiry into Australia’s advocacy for the abolition of the death penalty. Maguire was invited to give expert evidence orally and features prominently in the Parliament’s final report (May 2016).
Dr Maguire also regularly contributes to The Conversation. Her series of articles, covering international law, human rights, refugees, death penalty reform, and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander affairs, have attracted more than 260,000 readers and have been cited in support of public policy.
DFAT funding has enabled Newcastle Law School to conduct deep clinical immersions that focus on achieving international justice reform. For example, in 2016, a Newcastle Law School delegation led by Dr Kevin Sobel-Read worked directly with government leaders in the Cook Islands to achieve justice reform and draft new legislation and policies for the Cook Islands.
OECD Transnational Business Compliance with Human Rights- Dr Tim Connor
From 2015-16, a team of Newcastle Law School Researchers led by Dr Connor (as Chief Investigator on a collaborative ARC Linkage Project) travelled to Indonesia to research and advise on ways to advocate for and design regulatory systems that promote OECD transnational business compliance with human rights standards and which enable effected people to defend those rights.
Influencing Judicial Perspectives on Tort Law- Associate Professor Neil Foster
Associate Professor Foster’s prolific and highly regarded work on breach of statutory duty, vicarious liability and liability of company officers has been relied on by courts around Australia. His work was cited in: Alcoa v Apache Energy  WASC 209 ; Matton Developments v CGU Insurance  QSC 72 ); Deal v Kodakkathanath  VSCA 191 ; NSW v Briggs  NSWCA 344 . These cases are influential and have in turn been frequently cited.
The Return on Investment of Effective Complaints Handling- Professor Tania Sourdin
With a multidisciplinary team working across a range of complaint sectors, Professor Sourdin has worked to examine complaints data and create an algorithm to measure the effectiveness of complaints processes. By using a ‘benefits less costs’ approach, research funded by industry is assisting to resolve complaints and develop systemic approaches to the extended benefits that can arise when systemic reporting, monitoring and action is undertaken. In 2018, a second project in this area is being undertaken with public sector organisations.
Civil Justice Reform
Some of Newcastle Law School’s access to justice work has focused on systemic civil justice reform.
For example, Professor Tania Sourdin has an extensive career focusing on justice, litigation, conflict avoidance and dispute resolution. She has conducted qualitative and quantitative research projects into aspects of the justice systems in Courts and Tribunals across Australia, as well as a number of external dispute resolution schemes. Professor Sourdin was closely involved and frequently cited in the Access to Justice Review undertaken by the Victorian Government in 2016. She gave extensive oral evidence to the Review in July 2016. The Review also drew on her extensive evidence-based research on self-represented litigants, pre-action protocols, procedural justice, ADR and the use of technology.
Bernie: The AVO APP
In a collaborative effort researchers at UON Law School have developed and built an app aimed at defendants as an early-intervention technological tool that may provide safety for victims of family and domestic violence. Importantly, the app makes defendants accountable, it reminds defendants on how to comply with court orders and strengthen positive decision making around behaviours and emotions. The app is a digital resource that aims to reduce reoffending and help reinforce the practical and legal information given by lawyers to clients.