Innovating access to civil justice in a rapidly changing world
By Associate Professor Genevieve Grant
The pandemic has seen courts and tribunals, legal services, government agencies and community members with legal problems rapidly move online. Many questions have flowed from this move.
- What aspects of our new practices promote access to justice?
- What civil justice innovations should we retain?
- And what might be gained – and lost – when we no longer resolve disputes face-to-face?
These questions are amongst those being explored by members of the Australian Centre for Justice Innovation (ACJI).
ACJI engages in applied empirical and evaluation research to build the evidence base for driving reform and better practice in civil justice law and policy. Our work focuses particularly on dispute resolution and civil justice; legal services, technology and innovation; access to justice; and non-adversarial justice. We work with governments, courts and tribunals, compensation schemes, regulators, legal service providers and colleagues across disciplines to generate high-quality, actionable research evidence and outcomes.
Building partnerships and research capacity
ACJI researchers work with project partners to build capacity for research. Our collaboration with South-East Monash Legal Service (SMLS) illustrates this approach and the benefits it delivers. With the support of a Victoria Law Foundation Knowledge Grant, ACJI researchers Associate Professor Genevieve Grant, Dr Tania Penovic and Dr Jackie Weinberg are working with Korina Leoncio, Ashleigh Newnham and Kris Wallwork at SMLS to build a world-first profile of the civil justice problem of wage theft and employment underpayment recovery, using the rich administrative data resources of SMLS.
ACJI also brings expertise to bear in supporting partners in the development of research agendas. In 2021, ACJI worked with the Victorian Legal Services Board and Commissioner to provide a rapid review of evidence of consumer experiences of legal services to inform the work of the Board’s Consumer Panel.
Investing in our students
Enhancing student learning and employability is an important feature of ACJI’s work. In 2021 our Vacation Research Scholarship Program provided opportunities for 18 high-achieving Monash Law students to be paired with Centre researchers to contribute to cutting-edge projects. Scholarship supervisors including Liam Elphick, Associate Professor Yee-Fui Ng, Dr Drossos Stamboulakis and Jenn Lindstrom collaborated with student scholars on projects ranging from automated decision-making in government to the use of mystery shopping to investigate discrimination law to innovation in the design of disability benefit application systems.
ACJI’s Dr Paul Burgess spearheaded Technology, Design and Innovation in Legal Services, a unit in which students explore innovation in legal practice and services settings through teamwork in devising a research question, systematic research and solutions. The final expo saw a suite of outstanding student pitches judged by a panel of industry and academic experts. The inspiring pitches tackled problems including fee certainty for start-ups, legalese in contracts, dispute prevention and resolution in residential tenancies and communication between lawyers and clients.
Innovative tech collaborations generating new justice insights
ACJI members continue to embrace working across disciplines to explore how technology can improve justice systems. In 2021 Associate Professor Yee-Fui Ng and Dr Eric Windholz teamed up with colleagues in Architecture and a range of industry partners on the Building 4.0 Cooperative Research Centre ePlanning and eApprovals Scoping Study, investigating the modernisation of planning and building approvals.
Work is also ongoing with collaborators in the Vision and Language Group in the Department of Data Science and AI on an ambitious study of Natural Language Processing for Legal Texts, with the support of an Interdisciplinary Seed Grant.
ACJI research teams won two Monash Data Futures Institute Seed Grants, in a round dedicated to the application of AI and Data Science to address global challenges. Dr Paul Burgess, Associate Professor Yee-Fui Ng, Associate Professor Maria O’Sullivan and Dr Mor Vered (Faculty of IT), are investigating The Rule of Law and AI’s Exercise of State Power. Associate Professor Genevieve Grant and Dr Reuben Kirkham (Department of Human-Centred Computing, Faculty of IT) are researching Semi-Automated Annotation of Administrative Tribunal Decisions for Empirical Legal Research.
Looking ahead to 2022
2022 will bring exciting new opportunities and projects.
In February 2022 ACJI is hosting the annual Civil Justice Research and Teaching Symposium, bringing together civil justice researchers from across Australia and New Zealand.
It will also see the commencement of the five-year, $2.5m National Health and Medical Research Council Centre of Research Excellence (CRE) in Better Outcomes for Compensable Injury. ACJI is collaborating with leading researchers around Australia in disciplines including health economics, injury epidemiology, health services research and digital health to improve claimants’ experiences and outcomes in compensation systems. Stay tuned for PhD scholarship opportunities.
Finally, Associate Professor Genevieve Grant and Associate Professor Mai Sato will lead a new program of research on Access to Justice, Family Violence and Legal Services, in partnership with collaborators in the Monash Law Clinics, Future Courts Platform and broader Monash community. This work will build a novel evidence base on the benefits of technology for driving access to justice in the delivery of legal services in Monash clinical settings.
Please contact firstname.lastname@example.org if you would like any information about ACJI’s work or to get involved in the Centre in 2022.
Associate Professor Genevieve Grant is Director of the Australian Centre for Justice Innovation, Faculty of Law, Monash University.