Since 2012, more than 4,000 people have been sent to the islands of Nauru and Papua New Guinea as part of an offshore processing program for refugees and asylum-seekers in Australia. It’s been a controversial practice, with many claims of mistreatment and lack of protection arising from those held within the system.
The Australian government has since stopped sending new detainees to offshore processing centres and has struck deals with other countries to take on the resettlement of refugees who cannot resettle in Australia, but a little more than 100 individuals still reside on the island of Nauru—and questions about their medical care remain.
Recent events like this shine a light on racial injustice and discussions on racial equality that affect all of us. At Relativity, we believe that discovering truth is fundamental to the creation of a more just world, so we created the Justice for Change program to leverage the unique capabilities of RelativityOne and our network of e-discovery experts to positively impact racial and social justice in our communities.
As part of the program, RelativityOne partner Law In Order and the National Justice Project (NJP) have teamed up to work on a number of related cases focused on whether or not the Australian government owes a duty of care to people who are detained in offshore processing centres—specifically regarding standards of medical care for refugees and asylum seekers detained on Nauru.
"Since 2017, we’ve been fighting on behalf of 50 clients to establish a duty of care to refugees who have suffered in offshore detention,” said Emma Hearne, associate legal director at the National Justice Project. “If our cases are successful, we will set a groundbreaking legal precedent that allows refugees to hold the Australian government to account for the physical and psychological harm they suffered in immigration detention. And if we win, this new law will help to ensure a more humane approach to processing people seeking asylum in the future.”
This particular project through the Justice for Change program involves a legal process that requires a review of more than 45,000 documents, predominantly in PDF format, spread across four relevant cases. Ninety-nine percent of these documents have been produced from the Respondent, meaning the NJP team have a mammoth task to review the evidence. The teams plan to use the technology to conduct these reviews, helping them uncover the truth and the narrative within the mountain of evidence—and to do so quickly and cost effectively. The technology has helped identify missing documents and errors within the tranches provided so far, enabling the NJP team to revert to the Respondent to correct these errors and conform to the document exchange protocol. That said, it’s uncommon for non-profits like the NJP to have access to enterprise-level e-discovery technology, so there’s little to no familiarity with the software and the best way to set it up for their case.
Claire Broomhall, a consultant at Law In Order, has been working with the National Justice Project since the beginning of 2022 to contribute consulting hours, education, and training to their team. She’s been involved with training them on RelativityOne, provides project management and administrative support, and she assists the team with navigating and complying with the document exchange protocol—all to make sure they feel confident in the technology and legal process so all they have to do is focus on the casework.
“The National Justice Project team has been able to pick up RelativityOne quite quickly,” said Claire. “They had not seen a document exchange protocol presented in such a way before, but we’re able to help them read through the protocol, understand it, and show them how to manipulate the data to align with the protocol. I think the interface is very user-friendly so it’s easy to train on and pick up as well.”
"Technologically, we’re now on same page as the Australian government,” said Emma. “Access to RelativityOne and Law In Order’s services also means that we’re able to provide discovery ourselves. Before we joined the Justice for Change project, we had to do this manually for hundreds of documents—this took days of work just to figure out how to code the documents and provide the lists pursuant to the discovery protocols. These are complex cases containing a large number of issues, so it’s invaluable to have technology and expertise that can help us attack each of these issues in a streamlined way.”
Through Law In Order, the NJP has also had access to sophisticated features in RelativityOne—across tools like analytics and searching—to ensure the teams only need to focus on the most important material within the data set.
“The best piece of RelativityOne that we’ve been using for these projects is near-duplicate analysis. Using it has really brought down the amount of time required to review all the material as we’re able to group a lot of the documents together to eliminate repetitive reviews,” she said.
And, importantly, the ability to reuse decisions they’ve made on the documents across the other cases to limit the review burden.
“These are some of the first cases related to this topic that we’re working through now, but there are many more. The great thing is we can use these first ones as templates for the others to improve outcomes and have them heard in court much more quickly,” said Emma.
"Technology can be one of the largest barriers to the pursuit of justice. The Justice for Change program empowers the e-discovery community by taking away the burden of costs associated with access to technology. For non-profit organisations, there is the additional benefit of accessing expertise from our community. Our hosting partners take on the administrative and project management burden to provide support and manage the data using RelativityOne’s unique capabilities. The relationships built through the program develop into our hosting partners becoming an extension of the non-profit teams. With that support, the non-profit's legal teams’ time is freed up to focus on effectively building their case,” said Gulsun Demirel, senior community enablement specialist at Relativity.
Returning to the central question surrounding this case—does Australia owe a duty of care to refugees detained offshore? It’s not a question I can answer, but it is being heard right now in Australia’s Federal Court thanks in part to Law In Order and the National Justice Project. Depending on the outcome, another 40 similar cases are waiting in the wings with conditions that can be applied across them—making it extremely efficient to amplify the impact of judicial decisions.
“As a small not-for-profit charity, without RelativityOne and the help of Law In Order, we wouldn’t have been able to work on the discovery for the cases without having to spend big on technology and support. Law In Order has always been available to assist us—their team have been unbelievable. They’ve turned work around in no time, and they’ve taken all the worry of this discovery process away from us. Instead of wrangling with documents, now we can focus on arguing the case for our clients,” said Emma.
Organisations interested in learning more about the Justice for Change program or wishing to apply for an upcoming grant should reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Graphics for this article were designed by Sarah Vachlon.