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Participatory democracy reaching new heights


Steve Spinks
16 November 2011
With participatory democracy reaching new heights in the face of the Arab Spring, Occupy Wall Street and the Coal Seam Gas debate in Australia, the Public Interest Advocacy law unit offered through Southern Cross University’s School of Law and Justice is more relevant than ever.

This unique unit, which is offered as part of the Byron Bay Summer Law School program which starts this weekend, promotes participatory democracy and helps develop the skills for successfully advocating for public interest concerns.

“It is a multi-disciplinary course which explores a wide range of different perspectives,” lecturer Aidan Ricketts said.

“We touch on personal empowerment, study the life of cycle social movements, learn conflict mapping and explore public interest litigation, citizens rights and the legal issues surrounding protest actions.

“We also examine the growing significance of digital activism and investigate emerging techniques for encouraging corporate social responsibility.”

The unit’s assessment includes a major research assignment that requires students to work with community groups and prepare a strategic plan for a real life public interest campaign.

“These projects are very varied, they can focus on topical themes like whaling, animal rights or climate change or to more local issues concerning environmental or civic issues or advocating for better services for disadvantaged groups,” Mr Ricketts said.

Mr Ricketts is a prominent activism educator, academic and writer. He has recently completed a book on community activism entitled ‘The Activists’ Handbook: A step by step guide to participatory democracy’ which is due to be published internationally by Zed Books in London in 2012.

Other units being offered at the Byron Bay Summer Law School are Advanced Advocacy, Entertainment Law and International Criminal Justice. The Summer Law School runs from Saturday, November 19, to Friday, December 2.

The International Criminal Justice unit will feature Southern Cross University Chancellor The Hon John Dowd AO QC, as a guest lecturer. He will talk with students specifically about the politics of the international criminal court. A former Justice of the Supreme Court of NSW – he also served as the NSW Attorney-General and leader of the NSW Opposition – Mr Dowd is the Vice-President of the International Commission of Jurists.

Advanced Advocacy will involve former NSW Supreme Court Judge Greg James as a guest lecturer. He is the President of the NSW Mental Health Review Tribunal, which has the statutory responsibility for enquiring into or determining the care, detention and treatment of all persons suffering mental disorder who are detained or treated involuntarily in NSW. He presides over a Tribunal of approximately 100 professional members conducting about 10,500 hearings per year.

Photo: Greg James.