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By Law Institute Journal

Continuing Legal Education Opinions 


This month’s books cover online courts, law during war time, the Fair Work Act and firm culture.

Online Courts and the Future of Justice book cover

Online Courts and the Future of Justice

Richard Susskind, Oxford University Press, 2019, hb $38

I chose this book as one of my educational reads over the summer vacation. Little did I know, in those pre COVID-19 days, that the topic of online courts was to become of immediate relevance to litigation lawyers including barristers like myself.

Unashamedly, this book seeks to make the case for online court for civil matters. Online judging, in the “first generation”, involves the determination of cases by human beings (judges) but not in physical courtrooms. More controversially, the book addresses a “second generation” involving artificial intelligence (AI) techniques where directions and decisions are made by systems rather than humans. The latter raises ethical and social issues well beyond the world of Zoom and Microsoft Teams hearings in our current COVID-19 environment.

The author Richard Susskind is an expert in the field of online technology. His interest in online court services or processes is longstanding. He wrote his doctorate on AI and the law at Oxford University in the 1980s. His passion for how online courts can contribute to access to justice around the world is palpable in his clear writing.

Online Courts and the Future of Justice is a well structured, highly readable and extremely informative book. It is divided into four parts. Part I is “Courts and Justice” and explores the physical courtroom, virtual hearings and online courts vis-a-vis fundamental legal concepts such as access to justice. Part II deals with the question: “Is Court a Service or a Place”?  Part III is “The Case Against” online courts, which the author takes issue with, and Part IV, “The Future”, addresses emerging technologies, AI, the computer as the judge and global challenges.

The book’s focus is predominantly in England, however it includes reference to experiences in countries around the world (including a short section on Australia). A future book, or second edition of this book, could usefully consider the lessons in the use of online courts globally during and after the COVID-19 experience in litigation.

I recommend this book highly for litigators, policy makers, law students and any one interested in the future of legal dispute resolution.

Dan Star QC, Victorian Bar

Law in War book cover

Law in War

Catherine Bond, New South Books, 2020, pb $35

This book is extremely timely as some of the measures taken against COVID-19 bear a strong resemblance to many of the measures taken in wartime. Despite its big title, the book is about Australia during World War I. It first describes the creation of the repressive legal regime of “war precautions”, based on regulations, largely the work of PM and Attorney-General Billy Hughes and his Solicitor-General Robert Garran. It then ably demonstrates the effect of the regime through chapters on a zealous enforcer, Frederick Sickerdick, a businessman suspected of links to Germany, a Prussian officer in rural South Australia, two English suffragettes and peace advocates, an IWW activist, an Australian of Chinese descent and two Indigenous men who attempted to enlist and the men who were able to make a fortune from aspirin, which had been subject to a German-owned trademark. 

Repression of “aliens” including the native born with alien grandfathers, enforcement of already draconian regulations, action based on unproven allegations, repression of peaceful assembly and speech, racism and gaps in local manufacturing all have current resonance. 

Australia’s border force could not keep out the virus. Foreign workers and students are deprived of support. The validity of social distancing measures is yet to be tested in court, but the collaboration of federal and state governments is likely to make them immune to constitutional challenge. The financial burden will fall differently from before, but not more fairly. This book teaches some great lessons from history that we may be too preoccupied by the current battle to learn from.

Dr Matt Harvey, senior lecturer, Victoria Law School

General Protections under the Fair Work Act  book cover

General Protections under the Fair Work Act

Tim Donaghey and Emma Goodwin, LexisNexis Butterworths, 2019, pb $130

The grouping and expanding of a number of workplace rights under the heading “General Protections” started with the introduction of the Fair Work Act in 2009. Since then, litigation in the area has proved fertile ground for plaintiff employment lawyers. Consequently, it has also been an active area for consideration by the judiciary, whose decisions and reasoning inform this textbook. In the words of Justice Mordecai Bromberg in his foreword to this text, giving due credit to singer-songwriter Paul Kelly, “from little things, big things grow”.

The text is orderly, placing the rights grouped under General Protections in their historical and conceptual framework before leading the reader through how these rights can be understood and applied. It is logical, intuitive and well thought out. It is also well researched. 

Those who work in this area are no doubt familiar with the sense that trying to precisely pin down concepts in General Protections can at times feel like juggling jelly, but authors Tim Donaghey and Emma Goodwin do a masterful job in isolating areas of certainty and then providing reasoned commentary on those areas that continue to remain less certain. This makes this textbook easily accessible for lawyers, HR practitioners and students.

It is reassuring to see General Protections given the studied attention it deserves and the text fills a gap that has existed for too long.

Joseph Kelly, Kelly Workplace Lawyers

Culture Fix book cover

Culture Fix

Colin D Ellis, Wiley, 2020, pb $30

The aim of this book is to provide a “how to” approach to culture for all types of organisations. It is conveniently divided into seven parts. 

The first part defines culture, its value and a brief introduction to the six pillars of culture. The introduction provides the context for the book and should be understood before proceeding (otherwise you may find yourself flipping back to understand the context). It will also help you to focus on the parts you want to read and learn about. As suggested by the author, each part could be read on its own. 

The remaining parts elaborate on the six pillars of culture – personality and communication, vision, values, behaviour, collaboration and innovation. 

The book is written in an easy to read conversational tone with sporadic personal anecdotes, “dad” jokes and many real life examples. The author is forward in stating what hasn’t or what does not work, often backed up with his own extensive personal experience and/or supporting research. There are also references to free and other content should a reader want to explore a topic further. This is all balanced with the author’s genuine emphasis for the reader to take action and do, not just be a “content vacuum”. 

The main theoretical content concludes with case studies, key points and actions to take. If you are short of time, you could skip through to these subheadings for a short summary. 

Leaders, business owners and managers will find this to be a useful and practical resource to gain an understanding of the mechanics of culture and how and what to do about it. 

A resource to revert to as needed, rather than a one off read. ■

Steven Milicevic, principal, Milicevic Lawyers

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