Dr. Jenny Burley is a Research Associate in Humanities at Flinders University.
While working at the Legal Services Commission of South Australia as the legal
training officer, Jenny began her PhD research into the barriers that exist
between Vietnamese refugees and the Australian legal system. Jenny began teaching
in Legal Studies at Flinders University in the early 1990s, developing teaching
and research interests in multiculturalism and the law, gender and the law,
alternative dispute resolution and comparative family law with a focus on family
law developments in Ireland.
Community legal education (CLE) has traditionally been the poor relation of case work in the allocation of resources designed to improve access to justice in Australia. Against the many odds, community legal education has made considerable achievements. But those gains are again under threat where increasing case work demands consume reduced budgets. South Australia's solution to the dilemma of the demonstrable need for legal education to expand rather than contract has been to raise its own funds for worthwhile projects. Based on the 'Robin Hood' principle, user-pays public legal education now funds a host of other education activities.
Previously neglected groups such as public and private sector employees have had their needs for legal knowledge met and it is this sector's ability to pay for training which has financed the provision of services to less advantaged groups. However, there is no guarantee that the public courses will continue to be profitable to the extent that the profit might finance other ventures. In that event, the battle for funding will resume and community legal education is likely to again become the poor relation of case work and impede access to justice for all Australians.
Usually divorce manuals lead the reader through what they need to know about family law and the legal process. This book does more. In addition to providing sound legal advice, it engages with the emotional experiences of the divorcing couple and provides not only a catalogue of the emotional stages of separation and divorce, but also a positive path through what can often be a painful and destructive process.
The recently completed "Multiculturalism and the Law" report from the Australian Law Reform Commission has thoroughly canvassed the issues of access and equity which arise in connection with the administration of the criminal justice system in a culturally diverse Australian society. It has made a number of sensible and achievable recommendations for reform which, if they are implemented, will go a long way toward addressing well-known and long-standing injustices which are experienced by ethnic groups when they come into contact with the legal system in Australian.
However, as a result of recent research in the Vietnamese community in South Australia, I see difficulties arising in the implementation of some of those reforms. If the commission's recommendations are to be implemented, it is clear from the report that one of the key ways to facilitate the changes, especially those to do with education and support services, is to channel funds for services through mainstream ethnic community organisations.
However, my research suggests that this may not be effective where issues to do with criminal justice and the Vietnamese are concerned. Internal cultural contradictions, and attitudes towards crime and criminals in this community cannot be legislated, or funded away. Unless we deal with significant, specific, cultural differences in any given ethnic community - in this case the Vietnamese - we are in danger of defeating the very reforms we are trying to achieve.