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Law Hack 2021: Disability Justice winner announced


10 November 2021 at 4:27 pm
Nikki Stefanoff
A unique event run by the National Justice Project brought together Australia’s brightest minds to find ways to defend the rights of people with disability. 


Nikki Stefanoff | 10 November 2021 at 4:27 pm


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Law Hack 2021: Disability Justice winner announced
10 November 2021 at 4:27 pm

A unique event run by the National Justice Project brought together Australia’s brightest minds to find ways to defend the rights of people with disability. 

An idea to create a new branch of emergency responders for people with disability, has been crowned the winning “hack” at an event tackling disability justice.

Law Hack 2021: Disability Justice saw 50 people from the legal, community and advocacy sectors gather together over two days in October to develop legal solutions to tackle the injustices facing Australians with disabilities. 

The event was organised by National Justice Project and those involved all had a background in the disability space, whether through lived experience or by working in the sector. 

The hackathon took place online, due to ongoing COVID restrictions, with participants divided into groups and given a different issue to solve. These included: reproductive rights, education, and policing and incarceration – all from the perspective of someone living with disability. 

Jess Pereira, a law student at Macquarie University, was part of the winning team — two of the team worked in law with the other two members working in the disability sector. Pereira says that having two team members with experience in the sector was invaluable when it came to working through the issue they were asked to look at. 

The problem faced by Pereira and her team was around policing and incarceration. An important issue, particularly when you see that Australian Institute of Health and Welfare 2018 data shows that people with disability make up 29 per cent of Australia’s prisoners, despite accounting for only 18 per cent of the population.

And for First Nations people charged with criminal offences who appear in court, 95 per cent have an intellectual disability, cognitive impairment or mental illness.


Read more: Advocates say justice gap must be closed for people with disability

“Our idea was to create a new branch of triple zero emergency responders,” Pereira told Pro Bono News. 

“So, if a person living with disability was in distress, or someone from the public saw someone living with a disability in distress, they would be able to call on someone with the training and experience to deal with the situation.” 

Pereira explains the service would work in the same way as a standard triple zero call. The request would go into the call centre, and a person with the right level of expertise would head out to assess the issue and make a decision on next steps.

“It’s not a new idea as they already do it somewhere in Scandinavia but I can’t remember exactly where,” she laughs. “Not surprising really, as they get lots of social issues right over on that side of the world.” 

Pereira says that while the idea might sound impossibly expensive to roll out, the criminal justice system is already costing the taxpayer a huge amount of money. 

“The cost of a new emergency services branch might just end up offsetting the money currently being spent on sending someone to prison,” she says. 

“Of course you’d need to pay for training and resourcing but we were encouraged to think big!” 

The experience of the team members who had worked in the disability sector was integral to this idea. Pereira says her teammates with first-hand experience told her that when a number of their clients had been in trouble with the police, things had escalated quicker than they needed to.  Mainly because police officers weren’t able to communicate with the person living with disability. 

“We started to think about how we could help first responders identify that the person they were being asked to help might have a disability and need a different form of communication,” Pereira says. 

“We ended up pitching the fourth emergency service idea because we thought ‘well if they can do it in Scandinavia why can’t we do it in Australia?’”


Nikki Stefanoff  |  Journalist  |  @ProBonoNews

Nikki Stefanoff is a journalist at Pro Bono News covering the social sector.

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