Law reform

Contributor: Angus Frith

Finding the relevant source of law is paramount. Common law (judge-made law) may be found in law reports and legislation may be found in the statute books, each available online. Libraries and a host of current websites are available for finding the law.

Finding the relevant law is not easy, even for a lawyer, although the internet has made it easier. It is important to try to locate the most recent relevant law, as some areas of law change frequently.

In searching for a law, be aware that there are two types of law:

1judge-made law (common law); and

2parliament-made law (legislation).

There are many reasons why laws change. Usually a government decides to adopt a new policy or approach. Often the need for change is expressed and defined by law reform organisations, Royal Commissions and the many other bodies that play an active role in trying to improve society.

The most formal mechanism for reviewing law is through a law reform commission; these commissions report to government about laws that need changing or improving. The Australian Law Reform Commission (www.alrc.gov.au) reports to the Commonwealth Government; the Victorian Law Reform Commission (www.lawreform.vic.gov.au) reports to the Victorian Government. The state and federal attorneys-general (government ministers responsible for the legal system) refer problem areas to law reform commissions for advice. These commissions are committed to a consultative approach to law reform, and they provide opportunities for the public to put forward their views about areas of the law.

As well as these formal mechanisms for changing laws, community groups, activists, the business community, welfare organisations, trade unions and political lobby groups all campaign for reforms to laws that interest and affect them. Community legal centres are actively involved in law reform.

Many groups are working to change all sorts of laws, including those relating to mandatory detention, terrorism, abortion, animal welfare, the environment, planning and civil liberty. The daily newspapers give you an instant sample of what laws are under scrutiny at any given time.

If you are concerned about a particular law, approach your local member of parliament.