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Justice For Change: First Nations Children's Treatment in Australian Detention Centres

Phoebe Cracknell

Editor’s Note: Names marked with an asterisk have been changed to protect individuals’ privacy.

On 19 September 2022, Public Hearing 27 of the Disability Royal Commission brought attention to the disproportionate rates of incarceration among First Nations people, particularly affecting individuals with a disability.

The hearing shed light on allegations of violence, abuse, neglect, and exploitation in youth detention facilities. Considerable focus was directed toward challenges arising from the one particular detention centre in Western Australia. Testimonies from Jasmine*, the de facto mother of detainee Nathan*, highlighted the profound consequences of punitive practices in Australia’s youth detention centres. These accounts prompted legal advocates, led by the National Justice Project and George Newhouse, the Project’s CEO and principal solicitor, to propose systemic overhauls aimed at safeguarding the rights of vulnerable youth. 

As part of Relativity’s Justice for Change program, which leverages the distinctive capabilities of RelativityOne and our extensive network of e-discovery experts, our partner Law In Order collaborated with the National Justice Project, who served as Nathan’s legal counsel—delving into his personal experiences of mistreatment at a detention centre in Western Australia. The objective was to examine the vulnerabilities within existing policies, practices, and responses when it comes to the treatment of individuals with disabilities in these settings. The inquiry also scrutinised the specific responses of Western Australian government agencies to the outlined issues, with a focus on proposing meaningful changes. 

The Importance of Tech Equality in Litigation

George Newhouse has taken on this case pro bono, ensuring Nathan had effective counsel. The National Justice Project has also taken on a civil litigation case for Nathan for the alleged mistreatment he endured in Banksia Hill Detention Centre. This case has been proceeding through the courts for a number of years and has a fair way to go. The National Justice Project is acting for Nathan and another young detainee, without payment from the clients.

Fiona Ivits, National Justice Project’s communications and advocacy manager, stated: “We face a significant challenge in managing the extensive document review and analysis required to support our position and move the case forward. To address this challenge, having technology—as well as the resources to use this technology—means this case and others like it have a fair chance of being heard.”

RelativityOne significantly shortened cycles needed to complete various steps of the case, utilising AI-powered technology to organise data, discover the truth, and take informed action. The majority of these cases involve a substantial number of documents for review; RelativityOne's role is to streamline that review process, automating what is traditionally a manual task—and revealing only the most relevant documents. This efficiency and time saved is especially critical in resource-constrained pro bono matters.

Kathryn van Gelder, a director at Law In Order, remarked: “Claire Broomhall, a consultant at Law In Order, works closely with the legal teams to identify the most appropriate approach to reduce the workload or to speed up review. There is a wealth of tools in RelativityOne that can be harnessed to support the team review and prepare evidence, including analytics that group documents by concepts or by textual similarity, email threading, and active learning.”

Fiona Ivits added: "With the Justice for Change program, we now leverage RelativityOne in partnership with Law in Order, empowering us with essential legal tools. This support not only streamlines repetitive and manual tasks, but also enables us to focus on our legal strategy, cancelling out the unnecessary noise. The ability to review only relevant documents results in effective legal counsel to our community, ensuring the best possible outcomes for individuals like Nathan."

The Disability Royal Commission released its final report on 29 September 2023. However, the court case continues and may not have a result for some time (we’ll update readers here on The Relativity Blog as things progress). More broadly, though, the focus of this team’s work extends beyond reprimanding individuals to addressing systemic issues impacting First Nations children. The time saved using solutions like RelativityOne enables the National Justice Project to act as legal counsel for more cases like Nathan’s, and make contributions and suggestions to legislative changes.

In July 2023, the National Justice Project submitted several recommendations to the Royal Commission aimed at preventing violence and abuse in youth detention by: advocating for more transparency within detention centres; providing access to trauma-informed therapeutic care; training youth detention officers on children’s rights; and assisting those with trauma or disability. 

Justice for Change Program Pledge

Relativity has long been committed to giving back and serving the communities in which we work and live. In 2020, we expanded our social impact efforts to focus on increasing access to justice through the Justice for Change program. This program pledges expertise from our community and the use of RelativityOne to support social and racial justice projects championed by customers, law firms, non-profits, corporations, and academic institutions. In addition to the broad range of causes we have supported, we have made a concerted effort to support racial justice projects impacting the Black community globally, Aboriginal and Torres Strait communities in Australia, and, most recently, expanded to Canada as well as Europe where we’ll seek to support causes related to refugees.

The Justice for Change program in Australia has experienced significant growth, achieving a two-fold increase in cases year over year.

Gulsun Demirel, Relativity's customer and community enablement manager, highlights the program's impact on supporting NFPs—sharing a notable experience with an NFP organisation on the nature of support they can receive: “One of my first conversations with an NFP senior solicitor was her asking how to navigate a document exchange protocol and how she can comply with the production requirements. There was a huge sense of relief when we advised her that the hosting partner would dedicate e-discovery professionals to help manage the data, and all she had to do was focus on the legal work. It shows how the program enables the community to navigate the legal system and support non-profits in doing what they do best.”

We’re also seeing an increase in demand from partners to get involved and desire to support pro bono matters. As hosting partners, they are also committing to providing e-discovery capabilities, efficient use of AI, and project management support to organisations on the front lines of social and racial justice issues. This demonstrates that there is a huge opportunity ahead of us and a chance to make an impact on organisations supporting communities most in need.

Organisations interested in learning more about the Justice for Change program or wishing to apply for an upcoming grant should reach out to socialimpact@relativity.com

Graphics for this article were created by Sarah Vachlon.

Learn More about Relativity's Justice for Change Program


Phoebe Cracknell is a member of Relativity's marketing team in Australia.

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