Research excellence: Justice for all

Published: Wednesday 30th September 2015

 David Spencer

Professor David Spencer, Deputy Provost, has focused on the participation in the administration of justice by  deaf citizens as jurors. “I particularly enjoy getting an email or phone call out-of-the-blue from a student or peer to chat about an issue that will assist them in a paper or a presentation they are preparing,” he said. 

“This provides a great opportunity to speak to new people and to engage in the issues that are sometimes vexing for the system of justice.” 

A very quick background on you 

I hold the following qualifications: BA(Macq)., LLB(Syd)., GDLP(UTS).,LLM(Hons)(UTS). 

I am a former practising solicitor. In 1996, the University of Technology Sydney disaffiliated with the Law Society of NSW in running the College of Law which delivered practical legal training for graduates of Bachelor of Laws programs in NSW (back then law graduates required a further six months in practical legal training before being admitted to their respective Supreme Court and being able to apply for a practising certificate). 

As a result of this, UTS developed practical legal training for its graduates and graduates form other universities and recruited lawyers (as opposed to academics) to write and deliver the new course.

Since then I have been in a law academic in the faculties of law at UWS and Macquarie University and came to Melbourne in 2008 to take up the post of Associate Dean (Academic) in the Faculty of Law and Business at La Trobe University. 

I was recruited to ACU in late 2012 as the Academic Director and as of 1 January 2015,  Deputy Provost.

What led you to choose this career path?

While in practice as a solicitor I had some articles published in referred and non-refereed journals and enjoyed the process. 

I also enjoyed talking to academics and practitioners about my research on occasions when they would contact me post-publication and the opportunity that gave me to exchange ideas. 

Further, I have always enjoyed the process of communication whether via the written or spoken word so it seemed that academia would be a good career move given the teaching element of the job and being able to speak to an audience via research and writing. 

What are you working on at the moment?

I have just finished a number of publications including: Becoming a Lawyer: Success at Law School (Oxford University Press, 3rd ed, 2014); Dispute Resolution in Australia: Cases, Commentary & Materials (Thomson Reuters, 3rd ed, 2015); Title 13.2 Mediation & Conciliation for Laws of Australia (Thomson Reuters, 2nd update, loose leaf service update 307, 2015); and, “Landing in the right class of subject to contract agreements” (2015) 26 Australasian Dispute Resolution Journal 75.

At the request of Thomson Reuters I am currently working on the second edition of Principles of Dispute Resolution which should be out next year (2016).

I am towards the end of an ARC Linkage Project entitled, “Participation in the administration of justice: deaf citizens as jurors”. I am a Chief Investigator alongside the University of NSW, Heriot Watt University (Scotland) and the University of Alberta (Canada). 

The project builds on research conducted by Professor Jemina Napier (linguistics academic) and I when we were both at Macquarie University. The first part of the project in 2006 dealt with comprehension issues in a complex criminal trial while this ARC project deals with the logistical issues of deaf people participating in a trial and whether the presence of a deaf juror has an impact on the process of jury deliberations.

After running a mock trial at the Parramatta District Court in July 2015, the team of Chief Investigators have almost completed the analysis of interview transcripts with all the players, that included : real Crown prosecutors and defence counsel; real police informants; real jurors and interpreters; a real District Court judge (retired); and actors as accused and witnesses.

We are now in the process of commencing the task of writing up the research into suitable publications for law and linguistics refereed journals. A number of conference presentations have also occurred with a couple more slated in the future.

What do you enjoy most about your research?

I enjoy the process of my research,  being disseminated to inform practitioners, academics and students. 

I have been fortunate enough on two occasions to have courts quote my research outputs with approval in trials and have had many conversations with students and academic peers about the issues I have written about. 

It is enjoyable to engage with others about my research and writing that at times addresses important issues relating to the administration of justice.

I particularly enjoy getting an email or phone call out-of-the-blue from a student or peer to chat about an issue that will assist them in a paper or a presentation they are preparing. 

This provides a great opportunity to speak to new people and to engage in the issues that are sometimes vexing for the system of justice. 

How does your research make a difference in the community?

Providing research and commentary on issues that affect the administration of justice raises the consciousness of the community and the administrators of justice. 

In this way, while I may not have a direct effect on decisions taken, at least the issues are being elevated to the point of discussion and in some small way I may have contributed to change for the good of the community. 

In terms of the current ARC project we hope to eliminate a form of discrimination that exists in our community by the inclusion of deaf people on juries. 

It may only seem like a small thing to most people, but for deaf people (and others with a disability) discrimination is often a cumulative effect built up by being excluded or treated differently across a range of activities that hearing people may take for granted. 

Exclusion from serving as a juror because you are deaf is one of those activities where we treat deaf people differently and hence perpetuate discrimination. Inclusion of deaf people on juries is easy to fix and we hope to effect some change on this issue through this research.