Justice Access Research Alert No. 83
May 2020
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Impact of COVID-19 on the justice system

In collating our JARA newsletter, the Law and Justice Foundation has always aimed to bring to its readers timely and useful research and evaluation findings.

COVID-19 has disrupted the operation of the justice system in Australia, including courts and all parts of the legal assistance sector. The justice system has a unique opportunity, driven by the rapid change of a wide range of procedures and processes, to reflect upon the aims and objectives of various elements within the justice system and to consider the most appropriate and effective service models to adopt in the future.

It has been long recognised that having a comprehensive understanding of the legal needs of the community, and 'what works' to meet those needs, is fundamental to the development of effective legal assistance services policy and service delivery. In Australia, the Foundation is a leader in building the evidence base to support decision makers across the justice system, particularly in relation to meeting the legal needs of the community.

Without a reliable evidence base, this opportunity to reshape justice system processes to best serve the community may be lost. All parts of the justice system are encouraged to prioritise monitoring and evaluation to ensure that lessons are learned and the best possible outcomes can be achieved as the justice system emerges from the COVID-19 crisis.

New paper to be published in May

An OECD – Law and Justice Foundation co-authored paper, Background brief: Impact of COVID-19 on Access to Justice, will be released shortly. Examining country and justice system experiences responding to the COVID-19 crisis, the paper discusses:

  • Assessing and monitoring changes to legal need as a result of the pandemic, and the implications for how justice processes should adapt
  • The opportunity provided by the rapid changes to many processes to reflect upon the main purposes of these processes and how they can be re-imagined to best achieve those purposes
  • The importance of evaluation to provide evidence to inform decisions regarding the processes to retain and adapt into the future, rather than necessarily just keeping the new, or returning to the old
  • The importance of more and better data to enable governments to provide the most effective and affordable justice to the community.

Children and young people

See also Domestic and family violenceYouth justice

Child protection 2018–19, Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, Canberra, 2020
RESEARCH: During 2018–19, 170,200 (30 per 1,000) Australian children received child protection services (investigation, care and protection order and/or were in out-of-home care). Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children were 8 times as likely as non-Indigenous children to have received child protection services. Children from geographically remote areas were more likely to be the subject of abuse or neglect, or be in out-of-home care than those from major cities. Over 3,700 children were reunified with family during 2018–19. A complimentary data visualisation report Child protection Australia: children in the child protection system is also available.
Expenditure on children in the Northern Territory: study report, Productivity Commission, Canberra, 2020
RESEARCH: This report notes that children in the Northern Territory are three times more likely than Australian children overall to come into contact with the child protection system, and face higher rates of socioeconomic disadvantage. To help address this, in 2018–19, the Commonwealth and NT Governments have collectively spent approximately $538 million through 9 funding agencies. This report argues, however, the approach is fragmented and inefficient. The report recommends a number of reforms, including better use of data on services and outcomes for children and families at the regional and community level, aimed at enabling the Northern Territory Governments to work together more efficiently. Read overview

Redesign of a homelessness service system for young people, D MacKenzie, T Hand, C Zufferey, S McNelis, A Spinney & D Tedmanson, Australian Housing and Urban Research Institute (AHURI), Melbourne, 2020
RESEARCH: This research identifies measures that could reduce youth homelessness and lead to improved outcomes for young people who experience homelessness. Among the key findings are that  44% of all individuals who need and seek help from homelessness services are young people and children. About 42,000 (16%) are adolescents and young adults presenting to services on their own. Young people leaving out-of-home care (OOHC) into independent living arrangements are particularly vulnerable to experiencing homelessness.  The findings are based on a community-level analysis of special homelessness services (SHS) data and sites of innovation in three states: South Australia, NSW and Victoria. 


Guide to Good Practice on the Use of Video-Link under the Evidence Convention, The Hague Conference on Private International Law (HCCH), The Netherlands, 2019 
GUIDE: The HCCH has published a new edition of the Guide to Good Practice on the Use of Video-Link under the Evidence Convention updated as of November 2019. The Guide draws upon the discussions of the Experts’ Group on the Use of Video-Link and Other Modern Technologies in the Taking of Evidence Abroad, chaired by Chief Justice James Allsop of the Federal Court of Australia. In efforts to address challenges that have resulted from the COVID-19 pandemic, the Guide is available for free.

COVID-19 justice-related research

Documenting Challenges (and Documents) as Ohio Courts Respond to COVID-19, J Hrdinova, D Berman, M Pauley & D Ridgway, Drug Enforcement and Policy Center at The Ohio State University Moritz College of Law, Columbus, 2020
RESEARCH: This paper reports on the variation of responses across the wide range of Ohio courts, giving particular attention to how they reflected the Chief Justice’s recommendations aimed at minimising risk to the public as well as populations impacted. The authors note that this paper represents a modest effort to summarize the formal responses of Ohio courts in the first weeks after the state began responding to the COVID-19 pandemic. By documenting how courts first respond to this crisis through official court orders, the paper aims to illuminate and discern priorities that may foreshadow future shifts in policies and practices after a return to the new normal. 

Judicial review in the Administrative Court during the COVID-19 pandemic, J Tomlinson, J Hynes, E Marshall & J Maxwell, University of York, 2020
RESEARCH: This paper reports the first set of preliminary empirical findings concerning how the judicial review process in the Administrative Court in the UK has operated under COVID-19 measures. The findings suggest that, while there is support for the process continuing and remote hearings have certain strengths, there are also various technical difficulties arising and remote hearings are not seen as universally appropriate, even in a jurisdiction with a focus on ‘law-heavy’ disputes.

Monitoring changes in domestic violence in the wake of COVID-19 social isolation measures, K Freeman, Crime and Justice Statistics, Bureau Brief No. 145, NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research (BOCSAR), Sydney, 2020
STATISTICS: This report notes that police recorded crime data for March 2020 shows no evidence of an increase in domestic violence since social distancing was implemented in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Recorded incidents of DV-related assault for the month of March 2020 are equivalent with those for March 2019 (2,678 recorded in March 2020 versus 2,632 in March 2019). The author states that it is possible the figures are stable because isolation strategies have affected the willingness or ability of people experiencing domestic violence to seek assistance from police. However the author observes that it would be expected the most serious forms of physical domestic violence (i.e. murder and assault resulting in grievous bodily harm) would come to police attention as these offences are not sensitive to discretionary reporting. The author concludes that domestic violence may yet increase in response to social isolation measures. BOCSAR will continue to monitor this data over time.

Criminal justice system

See Indigenous Australians, Statistics, Youth justice

Domestic and family violence

See also COVID-19 justice-related research

Repeat domestic and family violence among young people, H Boxall & A Morgan, Trends & issues in crime and criminal justice no. 591, Australian Institute of Criminology, Canberra, 2020 
RESEARCH: This report notes that the ability of first responder agencies to target resources at the highest risk domestic and family violence offenders and victims is limited by a lack of information about the timing of recidivism. This being of particular concern for young people, who have typically been reported on in the risk literature. This study analysed Victoria Police reported incident data on almost 4,000 young people (aged 12–18) involved in domestic and/or family violence. Approximately one in four young people were involved in repeat violence within six months, with the highest risk occurring at around three to four weeks. The likelihood of repeat incidents of violence increased significantly with every new event. A prior history of violence (including breaches) was associated with repeat violence in the short term. The authors conclude that the findings highlight the need for timely, targeted and graduated responses to domestic and family violence among young people.


See Children and young people

Indigenous Australians

The costs of Indigenous and non-Indigenous offender trajectories, T Allard, M McCarthy & A Stewart, Trends & issues in crime and criminal justice no. 594, Australian Institute of Criminology, Canberra, 2020
RESEARCH: To provide data and insights to help with the reduction of Indigenous overrepresentation in the criminal justice system the authors developed a costing framework and estimated direct criminal justice system unit costs based on critical cost drivers. These estimates were applied to offender trajectories, modelling offences of all individuals registered as being born in Queensland during 1983–1984 (from ages 10 to 31). Separate trajectory models were developed for Indigenous and non-Indigenous Queenslanders in the birth cohort to enable separate cost estimations for these groups. Findings identified over one-half (53%) of the identified Indigenous cohort and 16 percent of the non-Indigenous cohort had moderate to chronic offender trajectories. Because of the high levels of recontact and sanction seriousness and length, Indigenous offenders were on average more costly. The authors conclude that the findings emphasise the high cost of current criminal justice system responses to Indigenous and chronic offenders in particular and the need to consider innovative and more cost-effective approaches to reduce offending by individuals in these groups.

Out-of-home care

See Children and young people


NSW Recorded Crime Statistics: Quarterly Update December 2019, NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research (BOCSAR), Sydney, 2020
STATISTICS: This report presents data on crime reported to, or detected by, the NSW Police Force from January 1995 to December 2019. The report includes an overview of trends in the most recent two-year period for major offence categories, firstly for NSW and then across NSW regions broken down to the Local Government Area (LGA) level. At the state level, for the latest 24-month period, two major offence categories have been trending upwards: domestic violence related assault (up 5.0%) and steal from retail store (up 8.3%) and one of the 17 major offence categories was trending downwards: steal from person (down 7.1%). In the 5 years to December 2019 recorded incidents of both sexual assault (up 5.9% per year) and indecent assault & other sexual offences (up 4.7% per year) increased significantly. In the 24 months to December 2019 AVO breaches increased 12.4%. Certain drug offences continue to rise including possession, dealing/trafficking and importing drugs.


See Domestic and family violence

Youth justice

‘Crossover kids’: vulnerable children in the youth justice system, Sentencing Advisory Council (Vic), Melbourne, 2020
RESEARCH: The Sentencing Advisory Council has released this second report on ‘crossover kids’, children who have had contact with both the child protection system and the youth justice system. The project studied 5,063 children sentenced in the Children’s Court of Victoria in 2016 and 2017, of whom 1,938 (38%) were known to the Victorian Child Protection Service before, at the time of or after they offended. The report looks at: whether child protection involvement or youth justice involvement came first for crossover kids; how child protection histories varied for different groups of crossover kids, especially children first sentenced aged 10–13 and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children; and whether there was an association between child protection involvement and the types of offences for which children were sentenced or diverted. The report also compared regional Children’s Court locations with court locations in the Melbourne metropolitan area.

About this newsletter

JARA is a free email alert service covering recent research in the area of access to justice and legal need. JARA entries are publications identified by Foundation staff rather than the product of a systematic search or review. Foundation staff have produced the summaries based on the original publications. The summaries do not necessarily reflect the views of the authors or the Law and Justice Foundation. Your feedback is important to us. If you have any comments or suggestions please email us at
© Law and Justice Foundation of NSW, 2020.
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