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Law students contribute to inquest into indigenous public health

Published 08 Aug 2019
Law students contribute to inquest into indigenous public health

University of Tasmania law students contributed to a real-life public health inquest which proved racial bias towards Aboriginal patients by the Murrumbidgee Local Health District, NSW.

The Inquest investigated circumstances around the death of pregnant Wiradjuri woman Naomi Williams (27), who in 2016, died 15 hours after seeking medical help for severe pain.

Inquest findings were delivered last week by Deputy State Coroner Harriet Grahame, who recommended the Murrumbidgee Local Health District strengthen its Aboriginal health worker program, measure implicit bias in the hospital, and increase representation of Indigenous people in staff and local health boards.

As part of the Clinical elective unit, the students worked together to compile a chronology of significant events in the case, under the supervision of University of Tasmania law lecturers Dr Brendan Gogarty and Naomi Bryant.

Skyping from Hobart to Sydney, the team had regular meetings with public health solicitors from the National Justice Project (NJP), who prepared the case.

“University of Tasmania students made a significant contribution to our research in this important Inquest and the National Justice Project is appreciative of their assistance,” Director of the NJP Professor George Newhouse said.

Based on the successful collaboration, the partnership between NJP and the University is continuing. Students of this year’s Clinical elective unit will assist NJP on two further health discrimination matters.

University of Tasmania Clinical program Director and law lecturer Dr Gogarty said the partnership was a unique opportunity for the University’s law students.

“Working with NJP – a leading national human rights organisation – is an unparalleled opportunity for both staff and students to appreciate the genuine and systematic discrimination Aboriginal people face across the country, and for our students to make genuine and practical contributions to improving that situation,” he said.

University of Tasmania law graduate Justin Heng was part of the team of students who contributed to the case.

“Working on the case opened my eyes to the injustices faced by vulnerable persons and communities,” Mr Heng said.

“The Clinical unit equipped me with plenty of practical skills that I would need to apply in my early legal career. I hope to continue to do good work for those who need it.”

On Monday Mr Heng will take up a position as a Judge’s Associate to Justice Wood of the Supreme Court of Tasmania.

Mr Heng and other law graduates will be officially admitted to the law profession over two ceremonies at 11:15am and 12pm on Friday 23 August at the Supreme Court of Tasmania.