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There are more women judges in Australia now than ever before, but the effects of this change on judicial subjectivity, jurisprudential method and decision-making have not been explored systematically.

Many of Australia’s current judges would have been exposed to feminist theory in law schools and progressive organisations during the 1970s and 80s, and some identify as feminists. We believe that it is timely, then, to ask whether this shift in the composition of Australian courts has resulted in new forms of judicial subjectivity and what impact it has had on jurisprudence, judicial method and the outcomes of cases.

The project aims to test both enduring and new questions about the relationship between law and feminist objectives: What kinds of judicial practices and judgments might be identified as feminist? Is it possible to formulate a feminist judicial practice, and if so, what are the boundaries of this enterprise? What kinds of judicial practices and judgments might be identified as feminist? Are law and judging more amenable to some kinds of feminism than others? How might a feminist approach to judging recognise a distinctly sovereign Indigenous position?

The Australian Feminist Judgments Project draws its inspiration from feminist judgment-writing projects in Canada and the United Kingdom and contributes a distinctly Australian perspective to the growing international literature investigating the role of feminist legal theory in judicial decision-making. It has the support and participation of a wide range of prominent legal scholars, legal organisations, practitioners and judicial decision-makers.

Background

The Australian Feminist Judgments Project draws its inspiration from two significant recent developments in law and feminist scholarship. The first has been the emergence in a number of jurisdictions, notably Canada and the United Kingdom, of feminist judgment-writing projects, in which feminist academics, lawyers and activists have written alternative judgments in a series of legal cases, imagining the different decision that might have been made by a feminist judge hearing the cases. The second has been the incremental shift in recent years in the number of women judges and Magistrates presiding in courts and tribunals throughout Australia. Recognition of these developments inspired the idea of an Australian Feminist Judgments Project.

In December 2010, a preliminary workshop was held at the University of Queensland, attended by around 25 legal academics and practitioners from across Australia. Professor Rosemary Hunter (University of Kent) spoke about the Feminist Judgments Project (UK), its theoretical and practical considerations, and the outcomes so far. Participants at the workshop agreed to pursue an Australian project.

In December 2011, the project was successful in obtaining funds from the Australian Research Council under the Discovery program (DP120102375, 2012-14), led by Professor Heather Douglas and Dr Francesca Bartlett (T C Beirne School of Law, University of Queensland), Dr Trish Luker (Faculty of Law, University of Technology, Sydney) and Professor Rosemary Hunter (Kent Law School). The project is administered by the University of Queensland.