Law, Justice and Evidence-based reform – Symposium at the University of Newcastle

Photo Credit: Christoph Scholz Flickr via Compfight cc


The evidence-based movement has had a transformative influence on  research and practice in numerous disciplines, including healthcare,  education, management and policy.

In contrast,  law lags behind. Law, in many respects, is still ‘eminence based’,  relying on the opinions of authority figures, rather‘evidence-based’,  which focusses instead on robust and thorough evidence as a basis for interventions.  There is too often a  gulf between academic research and the reality of lawmaking and legal  practice.  And yet, as those in the academy are well aware, impact is increasingly used as an assessment of the success of research. Empirical research, along with other forms of evidence, plays an important role in  reinforcing the value  that researchers can add to the day-to-day operation of  the law.

The evidence-based movement in law is concerned with improving research and evaluation in all areas of law’s reach, including legal education, legal practice, law-making and judging.   Drawing on evidence-based definitions from other fields,  evidence-based law and practice urges the production of rigorous  research evidence and incorporation of that evidence into debate about  legal doctrine, legislation and professional practices, analysis of the  impacts of law in society, and proposals for reforms in law and  practice.


Being evidence-based means that law-and policy-making, and professional practices, are grounded in rigorous evidence of what is effective in achieving desired outcomes.   At the heart of an evidenced-based approach is empirical research,  a relatively under-used (but growing) approach for legal academia.   In this respect, the field of dispute resolution, and civil procedure / civil justice more broadly, leads the way in terms of the breadth of evidence based approaches currently used by academics.   Some of these have been  showcased on this blog, and presented at the recent Non-Adversarial Justice Conference, hosted in Sydney by the AIJA.

However, not all aspects of an evidence-based approach translate naturally from the sciences to the legal context.  For example, the sciences focus on randomised controlled trials, and the systematic review of randomised controlled trials as ‘level II’ and ‘level 1’ (higher order) evidence respectively.   Law as a discipline of course is not well suited to randomised controlled trials, and even less well suited to detailed direct comparison of data across jurisdictions.   Many questions remain as to how to better adapt these research paradigms to the legal context.

To advance the development of the evidenced-based law movement in Australia, the University of Newcastle Law School is holding a one day Symposium on Monday 22 May 2017.

The Symposium will provide a forum for researchers, practitioners and policy-makers to discuss, advance and critique the concept of using evidence to inform justice decisions. The Symposium will open with a keynote address, “Reforming the Justice System: The Alchemy of Data, Leadership and Synergy”, delivered by international expert Justice Rebecca Love Kourlis. Justice Kourlis is the Executive Director of the Institute for the Advancement of the American Legal System (IAALS) and will discuss their robust approaches to original empirical legal research, innovative models for working with stakeholders, and strategies for measuring outcomes and impacts.

The full draft program can be viewed here and you can register your attendance at the  UoN Online Shop .  Attendees are also invited to an optional dinner following the Symposium. Discount accommodation rates will be available at the Crowne Plaza Hotel Honeysuckle.

For more information, please contact Briony Johnston:


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