Living away from big cities has many positive aspects. It can be more peaceful, it can be healthier and there can provide a stronger sense of community compared to cities where the size of populations and the pace of life might engender an alarming sense of anonymity and dislocation.
But life in the country on the other hand is not all a fabled field of flowers, not all a stereotype of clear starlit skies. Life in the country can be harsh and stressful and sometimes the opportunities for addressing the things that go wrong are not in easy reach. Even in a world where technology is enabling people to connect with one another more easily and more often than ever before, people who live in regional, rural and remote areas still experience an inordinate disadvantage in getting access to many of the services, infrastructure and opportunities that are at the doorsteps of their city counterparts.
It was a recognition of the justice dimensions of this that led to the establishment of Deakin Law School’s Centre for Rural Regional Law and Justice (CRRLJ) in 2012. The centre was set up to promote better access to justice for rural and regional Australia – and particularly for rural and regional Victoria – through applied research, education and engagement. It was based on an acknolwedgement that, when people's access to justice is limited, their health, wellbeing, safety, community connectedness, economy, learning, work, and families, all suffer.
The CRRLJ conceptualises, and engages with, legal research, education and advocacy in ways that reflect this multi-disciplinary awareness. Its projects often operate across the borders of academic disciplines, embracing, amongst others, education, health, social work, anthropology, criminology and economics.
Some of the centre's current projects include:
- An action research project to enable early and easy access to legal help for people living in regional Victoria who suffer from mental illness and whose legal problems may be simmering away in their lives, unaddressed and even unnoticed because of the complexities of maintaining their mental health
- A development of culturally-relevant resources for people in both Vietnamese-speaking and Dinka-speaking communities, both growing populations in regional Victoria, who are representing themselves in family law matters
- The delivery of a series of topical learning and development training sessions on law and justice issues, through accessible e-learning platforms, to professionals across a range of industries in regional and rural Victoria
- Research into variations in sentencing outcomes in Magistrates Courts across regional and metropolitan Victoria.
All of this is building on and adding to the CRRLJ's growing body of research reports, law reform submissions and academic publications on a range of issues about access to justice in regional and rural Victoria, including: the experiences of survivors of family violence in the regional and rural justice system; conflicts of interest for regional lawyers; the experiences of victims of crime in regional Victoria; access to civil justice systems in regional communities; and trauma-informed responses to the experiences of violence amongst Aboriginal women. The CRRLJ has also recently published a set of guidelines for others who wish to use e-technologies for delivering legal information to regional and rural audiences.
The CRRLJ looks forward to a future where it continues to research, educate and engage across the University and across regional and rural Victoria, so that its farms, seasides, bushes and small towns become places where communities have the sort of access to justice that enables them to thrive.