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3 July 2009
The question of whether living in rural and regional Victoria has significant disadvantages when dealing with the justice system will be answered following a recent grant of funds to Deakin University School of Law.
Thanks to a Victorian Law Foundation General Grant, Richard Coverdale, a Research Fellow who is based at the University’s Geelong Campus at Waurn Ponds, will conduct a state-wide study investigating the disadvantages people living in rural and regional areas may face in dealing with the law compared with those living in the metropolitan area.
“Anecdotally we have been told people can potentially face a range of difficulties in dealing with court processes as a consequence of living in a rural or regional area,” Mr Coverdale said.
“For instance people attending some courts in regional Victoria may not have the same time available for their lawyers to prepare cases and organise their witnesses, as those in metropolitan areas.”
“In other instances mandatory penalties do not take into consideration the greater consequence of those penalties for people living in rural areas. For example the mandatory loss of licence for some driving offences will have greater consequences for people living in rural communities with no public transport and substantial distances to travel for work.
“Or, if someone applies for bail, when the court considers the application, part of the consideration may involve the level of support and supervision available to the person. If for example bail is dependent on adequate supervision by disability support services, which is less likely to be available in the rural communities, then they are less likely to get bail.”
Mr Coverdale said while there had been a lot of anecdotal accounts about the issue there has been little formal investigation.
“It is surprising,” he said. “In developing the proposal there have been discussions with a range of people involved in the justice system including lawyers, magistrates, and advocacy services, I have not come across a person yet who has not given me further examples of issues of disadvantage they are aware of. This study will hopefully bring all that together to give a clearer picture of the state of rural disadvantage and the law.”
Tabitha Lovett, Grants Manager at the Victoria Law Foundation which has funded the research through its grants program said: “We receive a number of applications each year from community organisations and legal centres seeking funding to provide legal education in rural and regional Victoria or to expand their services to clients in these areas. The Foundation recognised the value in funding a project which will consider the extent to which people living in rural and regional areas are disadvantaged by their distance from city centres, not only in terms of the legal services available to them but also the administration of the law.”
Mr Coverdale said the research would involve state-wide surveys and focus groups as well as discussions with law firms and advocacy services working in rural and regional areas.
The study is expected to take 18 months.
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