Magistrates, Magistrates Courts, and Social Change


  • This research was funded by a University-Industry Research Collaborative Grant in 2001 with Flinders University and the Association of Australian Magistrates (AAM) as the partners and also received financial support from the Australian Institute of Judicial Administration and by an Australian Research Council Linkage Project Grant (LP210306) with AAM and all Chief Magistrates and their courts as industry partners with support from Flinders University as the host institution. Thanks to Russell Brewer, Libby Edwards, Ruth Harris, Julie Henderson, Mary McKenna, Rose Polkinghorne, and Wendy Reimens for research and administrative assistance on the project. Earlier versions of this paper were presented at the Australian Lawyers and Social Change Conference, National Museum of Australia, Canberra, 22–24 September 2004 and the Social Change in the 21st Century Conference at Queensland University of Technology, 28 October 2005.

 Address correspondence to Sharyn Roach Anleu, Flinders University, GPO Box 2100, Adelaide SA 5000, Australia. Telephone: 61-8-8201-2122; e-mail:


Relatively little attention has been paid to lower courts’ capacity to bring about social change, despite the fact that most citizens who come into contact with the judicial system will have their case considered (and most likely only considered) by these courts. Often these citizens experience a range of problems that are social in origin, including precarious employment, welfare dependence, financial hardship, and various health problems, including mental health and drug dependency. Magistrates courts must respond to social change and its human fallout and, in so doing, can contribute to progressive social change in a local, personal, and incremental way.