Understanding the Legal Information Experience: Results of a Pilot Study

Prof. Lisa Toohey1, Prof Helen Partridge3, Professor Jonathan Crowe2, Professor Rachael  Field2

1University Of Newcastle Law School, Newcastle, Australia, 2Bond University Law School, Robina, Australia, 3University of Southern Queensland, Toowoomba , Australia

This presentation reports on the results of the Legal Information Experience pilot study, which was funded by the AIJA.    The result of interdisciplinary collaboration between Law and Information Scientists, the study seeks a better understanding of peoples’ experience of using information to work out arrangements about post-separation parenting.

Semi-structured interviews were conducted with 20 participants, 13 males and 7 females. All participants had contacted the Family Relationships Advice Line operated by Relationships Australia. All participants were involved in negotiating post-separation parenting arrangements. Thematic analysis revealed five preliminary themes depicting various aspects of participants’ information experience of people engaged in a specific family law matter: following, immersion, human interaction, past experience and personal circumstances. This paper will critically explore these themes and potential implications for the design and delivery of legal information services.

In this presentation we present the data from the project, and explain the implications for better communication between experts and people experiencing disputes about parenting following the end of a relationship, as well as for the understanding more generally for the dissemination of legal information.


Lisa Toohey holds a Chair in Law at the University of Newcastle Law School, and was previously an Associate Dean at the University of New South Wales and the director of dispute resolution programs.    She teaches and researchers in the areas of dispute resolution, civil procedure and international trade law.   Full profile is available online.

Parents in the care jurisdiction of the Children’s Court: What can non-adversarial approaches offer?

Nicola M Ross1,

1 Newcastle Law School, University of Newcastle, University Drive, Callaghan 2308 Nicola.Ross@Newcastle.edu.au

Principles from therapeutic jurisprudence address the need to create a respectful and supportive court environment where participants are actively engaged in decision-making and make behavioural changes through choice rather than coercion. Procedural justice approaches emphasise having a voice, neutrality, respectful treatment and trustworthiness. This paper explores how these approaches might be used to improve the experience of parents who are involved in child protection proceedings in New South Wales. It presents qualitative research that investigated the perceptions and experiences of parents who have had children removed from their care in the Hunter Valley in the past five years. The research found that parents experienced high levels of exclusion and powerlessness in legal proceedings in the Children’s Court, in child protection processes and in their dealings with out of home care services. They experienced significant trauma, grief and loss when children were removed and in care. Although parents are key actors in processes designed to ensure children’s safety, welfare and well-being, processes in children’s courts and relationships with professionals in the child protection system can further reinforce their trauma and undermine their efforts to have their children restored. Despite parents having the benefit of legal representation and legislation directing that proceedings are not to be conducted in an adversarial manner, the parties are often not on a level playing field. Parents in this group are highly stigmatised and vulnerable due to socio-economic disadvantage and complex issues including family violence, substance abuse and mental health. Courts can be blunt instruments for determining outcomes in complex social situations. Legal processes can have an unintended but damaging impact on parents, extended family, children and family relationships. The paper considers parents’ narratives both of situations where they were undermined by legal and child protection processes, and where they were treated with respect and consideration.


Dr Nicola Ross is a Senior Lecturer at Newcastle Law School. She lectures in Family, Child and Criminal Law.  Nicola’s socio-legal research analyses how the law impacts on children and families, particularly in family, child protection and criminal law. She is Chief Investigator of a research team who has interviewed parents who have had a child removed from their care and placed in Out of Home Care (OOHC), to identify parents’ experiences and their understanding of legal and social services during their child’s removal and placement.


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