Valerie Williams

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Valerie Williams

Adjunct Researcher

Room 2.13, Faculty of Law Building, Sandy Bay Campus

+61 3 6226 7144 (phone)

+61 3 6226 7623 (fax)

Additional Information

Sanism: A Socially Acceptable Prejudice (Doctorate)

The thesis examines mental health with its competing paradigms and concepts, values and principles that give cause to the complexities, contradictions, vagaries and inconsistencies which provide fertile ground for the propagation of stigma and discrimination. It explores Professor Michael Perlin's theory of sanism that he states is no less insidious than other, more familiar 'isms' such as racism and sexism but is far more troubling because it is a widely practiced, socially acceptable form of bigotry. He claims that far from being immune, the legal system is embedded with the stereotypical prejudices and discriminations that render the legal representation of people with a mental illness incompetent. The hypothesis of the research is that the legal profession is inherently prejudiced, and incompetent, in its representation of clients with a mental illness participating in the civil commitment process. To test this premise, a questionnaire consisting of approximately 80 questions intended to identify student attitudes toward mental illness, mental health laws, and the legal representation of people with a mental illness was completed by 204 Introduction to Law students within the first 6 weeks of commencing their study at the University of Tasmania in 2010. In October of 2010, during the last 6 weeks of their legal education, 81 final year law students completed the same questionnaire. Qualitative data was also collected from interviews with 18 final year law students. An analysis of the data will determine whether law student attitudes are sanist when entering legal education and if sanist, whether they are less, more or unchanged upon exiting legal education. The thesis will explore the possible reasons behind the results achieved such as mental health literacy training and student participation in clinical legal education programs. It will go on to provide pedagogical recommendations for changing law students' negative attitudes and improving of lawyers' representation of their clients who have a mental illness.

Valerie successfully submitted her thesis in November 2013. She is involved in teaching LAW121 Introduction to Law, LAW122 Legal Systems and LAW634 Human Rights. Valerie is a registered supervisor for postgraduate study in mental health law.

Selected publications

Williams, VA, The Challenge for Australian Jurisdictions to Guarantee Free Qualified Representation Before Mental Health Tribunals and Boards of Review: Learning from the Tasmanian Experience, Psychiatry Psychology and Law, 16 (1) pp. 108-122. ISSN 1321-8719 (2009) [Refereed Article]


Perlin, P., New Directions in Clinical Legal Education: 'I Might Need a Good Lawyer, Could Be Your Funeral, My Trial': Global Clinical Legal Education and the Right to Counsel in Civil Commitment Cases (2008) 28 Wash. U. J.L. & Pol'y 241. Professor Terry Carney, Mental Health Tribunals Rights, Protection or Treatment? Lessons from the ARC Linkage Grant Study?

Judd, K., Hale, L., Out of Reach Women living with mental health issues in the ACT: What hinders their access to legal support, June 2010, Published by Womens Centre for Health Matters Inc.

View more on Dr Valerie Williams in WARP

Research Fields

  • Law (180199)

Research Impact

  • Justice and the Law (940499)


Total publications


Journal Article

(1 outputs)
2009Williams V, 'The challenge for Australian jurisdictions to guarantee free qualified representation before mental health tribunals and boards of review: Learning from the Tasmanian experience', Psychiatry Psychology and Law, 16, (1) pp. 108-122. ISSN 1321-8719 (2009) [Refereed Article]

DOI: 10.1080/13218710802471149 [eCite] [Details]

Citations: Scopus - 2Web of Science - 2


Research Supervision




PhDDo dementia-specific units meet the expectations of consumers/carers? What factors contribute to community acceptance of using secure dementia-specific units to restrict the liberty of people with dementia?2015