By Craig Over, Sabrina Tolsma and Thomas Weston
The theme of ALTA 2015 is equality of access to legal services in Australia. We began Day 1 with a welcome to country presented by Uncle Bill on behalf of the Wurundjeri people, the traditional owners of the land.
Professor Liz Tobin then presented an insightful talk on the interconnection between the law and healthcare. She introduced several main themes of the conference; important among these were access to the law through the partnership of lawyers and healthcare professionals. Professor Tobin advocated an interdisciplinary and collaborative approach. combining law and healthcare to combat substandard conditions among more vulnerable members of society. Her keynote was followed by a lively panel discussion with Liz Curran, Linda Gyorki, Elizabeth Kennedy and Bonnie Renou. Each speaker thoughtfully engaged with the many interconnections between health and legal systems.
After morning tea the conference was abuzz with excitement about the imminent arrival of former High Court Justice, the Honourable Michael Kirby. His Honour gave a compelling and humorous presentation by outlining Ten Commandments that law schools should adopt in the provision of legal education. Throughout the presentation Justice Kirby stressed the importance of using technology, encouraging critique and embedding ethical values in law degrees. His presentation concluded with a moving rendition of Gillbert and Sullivan’s The Gondoliers. Justice Kirby also launched the Secretariat of Australian Lawyers for Human Rights, which will be located at La Trobe Law School.
In the ‘Burning Issues in Access to Justice’ panel discussion, Patrick McGee spoke with great knowledge and personal experience about ‘The Aboriginal Disability Justice Campaign.’ Patrick explained that Australia faces a huge moral problem: ‘the dominant culture is locking up the minority culture.’ He examined how Indigenous people with intellectual disabilities, fetal alcohol spectrum disorder and mental illnesses are being sent to prison because there are no proper rehabilitative facilities for them. Judy Cassidy discussed the racially discriminatory treatment of remote indigenous communities in ‘Lifestyle Choices’. The title of her paper was a nod to Tony Abbott’s controversial remarks earlier this year that “it’s not the job of the taxpayer to subsidise lifestyle choices”. Judy examined the Liberal governments paternalistic approach to remote Indigenous communities. She highlighted the retrograde shifts made under the Howard and Abbott governments, emphasising the need for the government to be more inclusive, consultative and culturally sensitive to Indigenous communities.
The panel also featured David Manne, who discussed the lack of access to justice for asylum seekers in Australia. David emphasised that the most vulnerable and marginalised individuals should have access to courts and additionally, have the same resources as the Crown. Despite the current controversial political landscape surrounding asylum seekers, Manne concluded that the courts have shown that there is a limit to the executive powers of the Crown. Lastly, Matilda Alexander focussed on access to justice for prisoners in preventative detention. Prisoners have not always been considered to possess rights, particularly given that imprisonment is a deprivation of liberty. Matilda thus highlighted a very important question that we as a society must ask ourselves, how far does the rule of law extend beyond the prison gates? To answer this question Matilda encouraged law schools to implement Prison law into the curriculum as a way to underline and highlight these systemic issues.
The ‘Clinical Innovations’ panel discussion focussed on innovative teaching methods that have been designed for getting students ‘work ready’. Meredith Blake teaches a subject which requires students to act as law reform commissioners, writing position papers and making recommendations. This subject represents a departure from the traditional problem based exam as well as research essay writing. Nola Ries and Shaun McCarthy discussed a program where students reach out to the community through the form of information seminars for vulnerable people. The aim of their program is to not only provide students with practical experience, but a much needed service to the community. This discussion concluded with a presentation by Nussen Ainsworth on a program designed to introduce students to the inner workings of our court system by placing students with a judge.
Stay tuned for a wrap up of Day 2 of #ALTA2015!
Craig Over, Sabrina Tolsma and Thomas Weston, ‘#ALTA2015 Day 1 Wrap Up’, Law and Justice, 18 July 2015 (La Trobe Law School Blog, http://law.blogs.latrobe.edu.au/)