Deakin Law School is ready to use the improved rural internet access to increase access to justice.
Access to the justice system and professional legal development opportunities are low for those in rural, regional and remote Australia. Jeanne Nel de Koker, Learning and Development coordinator at Deakin University’s Centre for Rural Regional Law and Justice (CRRLJ) says that the centre developed methods to work around these barriers to provide high-quality education and information to industry, professionals and communities in regional and remote Victoria.
During the past three years, the learning and development project, funded by the Victorian Legal Services Board, deepened the centre’s expertise in alternative e-learning and digital delivery methods. The project experimented with various formats and developed a suite of practical delivery options. Through innovative use of higher-order technology, combined with lower-tech options, the centre can offer simultaneous interactive video-conferencing forums to groups and individuals in remote locations.
CRRLJ, which aims to boost regional Australia’s access to justice services via research and collaborations with communities, has hosted 24 such forums in the past three years, involving more than 2000 participants. These forums are primarily aimed at justice system workers in remote areas, including lawyers, counsellors, teachers and social workers and feature a panel of expert speakers. Topics included sexting, cyber-safety and elder abuse.
'Digital delivery proffers a solution to the challenge of equal access to opportunity and essential services, like education, healthcare and legal services, no matter where in Australia people live,’ Nel de Koker says. She reiterates the importance of recognizing varying levels of internet infrastructure and designing digital delivery programs with this in mind.
Limited internet infrastructure in many areas of remote, rural and regional Australia forced the Centre to adopt a multi-platform, multi-era approach to conduct these forums: 21st century streaming video meets 20th century landline phone technology. Participants are able to join a forum in person or via video link at work, from home or from regional point suchas a local library. Skype, mobile or landlines can be used to link with the forums. These forums are also truly interactive: Participants can submit live questions in person or via text, Skype or email.
‘Regional participants are thrilled that they can get up-to-date information, participate in the conversation and ask questions without having to spend a lot of time and money travelling long distances to cities or bigger towns,’ Nel de Koker explains.
Part of the success of the program lies in how the discussion topics are selected: by speaking with rural communities – and their legal professionals – in order to determine their priorities.
‘We want to find innovative solutions to problems people in regional areas are facing. We work very hard to build relationships with these communities so that we can collaborate, discover problems and then work together to find solutions,’ Nel de Koker says.