The establishment of the Institute follows an extensive history of law reform in this state. Tasmania established its Law Reform Commission in 1974. The Commission received references from the Attorney-General and its reports were presented to the Parliament. The Commission was ably chaired for the majority of its existence by Mr Bruce Piggott until its demise in 1989. Mr Piggott was a nationally and internationally renowned figure and made an impressive contribution to law reform in this state. The Commission also comprised representatives of the government, Law Society, Bar Association and the Faculty of Law. In addition there were two community members. The Commission was able to afford a full time Executive Director and three staff. The Commission was very productive and produced approximately 50 major reports on a wide range of topics such as workers compensation, de facto relationships, motor vehicle accident compensation and rape law reform. Most of the Commission's reports resulted in the introduction of legislation.
In 1989 the multi-member Law Reform Commission, for financial and political reasons, was replaced by a single Law Reform Commissioner with a reduced administrative staff. Mr Henry Cosgrove QC, formerly Justice of the Supreme Court and Professor Don Chalmers of the University of Tasmania held the office of Law Reform Commissioner consecutively until 1997. Some 20 reports were produced during this period, covering topics such as occupier's liability, child witnesses, and insanity, intoxication and automatism. The government did not extend the sunset clause in the legislation and the office lapsed in mid 1997. The functions of the Commissioner were given to the Director of the Legal Aid Commission.
The Tasmania Law Reform Institute is now the premier law reform body in Tasmania. The Institute was established on 23 July 2001 by a signed agreement between the State's Government, University and Law Society and is based at the Sandy Bay campus of the University of Tasmania, within the Faculty of Law. The Institute is run by its Director, Ms Terese Henning, with assistance and advice from its Board.