Since 2000, Magistrates Courts in Australia have been the focus of a national, multi-year, empirical research project being conducted by Matthew Flinders Distinguished Professor Sharyn Roach Anleu and Emerita Professor Kathy Mack of Flinders University, in collaboration with Australian magistrates and local courts and the Association of Australian Magistrates (AAM).
Magistrates courts are the largest and arguably the most important courts in Australia. Over 90% of all civil and criminal matters are initiated and finalised in magistrates courts. Most Australians who have any contact with a court will do so in a magistrates court. However, many aspects of the work of these courts, and the magistrates who preside in them, are significantly under-researched.
The first phase of the Project addressed three main research questions:
° Who are the magistrates?
° What is their everyday work?
° What is the relationship between magistrates’ courts and social services?
These questions were formulated after consultation with magistrates in all states and territories, in 2000-2001, as well as other stakeholders, to ensure that the research addressed key challenges and would produce valuable insights.
Several major research strategies were undertaken to answer these questions:
- Literature review of social science material, policy documents, legal cases and legal commentary.
- Collation of legislation, statistics and government reports on criminal and civil matters in magistrates courts, to generate a national picture of the operation of magistrates courts in Australia.
- The National Survey of Australian Magistrates 2002
- The National Court Observation Study
- The National Survey of Australian Magistrates 2007
The findings from these research strategies are the basis for research reports provided directly to magistrates and their courts or to professional organisations such as the Judicial Conference of Australia, submissions to government, as well as national and international publications and presentations to judicial and academic audiences.
The Project findings comprise a unique examination of courts and judicial officers. We are unaware of any national court system anywhere in the world that has initiated and continued to support comprehensive independent research of this nature.
This initial research has led to extensive investigations into many aspects of the Australian judiciary, conducted and reported independently of the courts and government. The Judicial Research Project builds on and extends the work of the Magistrates Research Project.
Since its inception in 2000, the Project has received considerable support in many forms, from many sources
We are always interested to hear from judges, magistrates and court staff in any jurisdiction, as well as other researchers, with questions, comments or suggestions about any aspect of the research.