Canberra Conversation Lecture Series

The Quality of Justice

Thu 25 June 2015The Institute for Governance and Policy Analysis / Recording now availableFunction Room, Theo Notaras Multicultural Centre at the North Building 180 London Circuit, CANBERRA CITY

The recording from this event is now available. Click here to watch.

The 3rd Canberra Conversation invited 3 esteemed speakers to discuss the quality of justice. Speakers included University of Canberra Vice Chancellor Professor Stephen Parker AO, ACT Human Rights & Discrimination Commissioner Dr Helen Watchirs and ACT Bar Association President and Barrister Mr Shane Gill.



Article - Court access is a fundamental civil right - keeping it in reach of all requires new thinking. Read more via the Canberra Times.


Speakers & Topics

Dr Helen Watchirs OAM

Dr Helen Watchirs has been the ACT Human Rights & Discrimination Commissioner for 11 years. Her work has focussed on Human Rights Audits of ACT detention facilities, as well as supervising the handling of discrimination, vilification and sexual harassment complaints. She has 33 years experience as a human rights lawyer working for Federal Government agencies, and as an employee/expert to several United Nations agencies, including UNAIDS, WHO, ILO, UNDP & the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. Dr Watchirs has a PhD in Human Rights Law & Masters in Public Law on HIV/AIDS issues from ANU. She is a member of an NH&MRC Expert Advisory Group Organ & Tissue. She was a legal member of the Social Security Appeals Tribunal & ANU Ethics Committee.

Topic:The quality of justice is underpinned by the quality of laws made by Parliament and enforced in courts. The ACT was the first Australian jurisdiction to implement a statutory bill of rights, based on a dialogue model, with separate roles given to the three arms of government, while preserving parliamentary supremacy over human rights matters. It could be enhanced by allowing human rights matters to be litigated in lower courts and tribunals, and having damages as a remedy for breaches.


Professor Stephen Parker AO

Professor Stephen Parker is the Vice-Chancellor and President of the University of Canberra, a position he took up on 1 March 2007. Stephen moved to Australia from the UK in 1988.  He graduated with honours in Law from the University of Newcastle upon Tyne and a Doctorate of Philosophy from the University of Wales.  He is admitted to legal practice in England and Wales, the ACT and Queensland. He has held various major research grants and has published books, monographs and articles on the court system, legal ethics, family law and children's rights. In 2012 Stephen was elected a Fellow of the Australian Academy of Law. Stephen was awarded an Officer of the Order of Australia (AO) in January 2014 for his distinguished service to tertiary education.

Topic - Could Court Reform Help Strengthen Democracy? In 1998 Professor Parker wrote a report called Courts and The Public, published by the Australian Institute of Judicial Administration (AIJA).  It led to a range of reforms to the court system and elsewhere.  In 2013 the AIJA published a collection of essays, with an introduction by the Chief Justice of Australia, assessing the impact of the Parker Report.  In his presentation, Stephen Parker will reflect on his original findings and their consequences.  He will also speculate on future directions for research and reform.  In particular, now that there have been important improvements in communication between courts and the range of people who come into contact with them and in the standard of service they offer, do we know enough about another dimension of quality; namely, error rates in court findings or how often courts get things “wrong”?  Continuing to ask these questions has a deeper purpose.  We are used to thinking of courts as being “neutral” in terms of democracy.  Judges in Australia are not elected, although they are appointed by elected governments.  They interpret and apply statutes which have been enacted by elected legislatures.  But if the public was better informed about levels of performance by courts, could the justice system actually promote overall confidence in democratic, constitutional government?  Or are courts like proverbial sausages: if you like them, it’s best not to think about how they are made?


Barrister Shane Gill

Shane studied law and completed legal workshop at Australian National University (ANU) in 1992 and found his feet as a domestic violence duty lawyer in the ACT Magistrates Court. After demonstrating his compassion and diligence in this area, he moved to the Criminal Law and Family Law Sections of ACT Legal Aid Commission. Although his heart belonged to Legal Aid, he found his way into private practice and eventually as a partner at pappas j – attorney. In 2003 he was a founding member of Burley Griffin Chambers in Canberra. He appears in the Local, Children’s, Magistrates, Family, Federal Circuit, District, Supreme Courts, Court of Appeal and the High Court. Shane is the President of the ACT Bar Association. When not engaging with the law, he spreads his time between his beloved family, church activities, restoring a 1952 Land Rover, riding his motor bike, relaxing with mates over a beer and mountain biking.

Topic: Most people will never come into contact with the justice system.  To them, it is little other than a curiosity mediated through press articles and television drama.  Yet to those who are drawn into the system, often unwillingly, it becomes apparent that the provision of justice is as important as a hospital bed and the quality of the justice becomes paramount.  If the discussion was about a hospital bed would we, as a society, tolerate a divorce of efficiency from quality?  Do we apply the same rigour when discussing legal process reform? At what point does the public discourse change from discussion of the curious to a conversation about the quality of justice? 





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