Judges’ associates win national essay prize

An essay championing ‘movement lawyering’ as a key to resolving issues confronting First Nations Peoples has won the Australian Academy of Law’s 2021 Essay Competition.

It was submitted by Lillian Burgess, Suvradip Maitra and Giulia Marrama, all of whom are associates to judges of the Supreme Court of Queensland.

This year’s competition asked entrants to address the question, ‘Outstanding fundamental issues for First Nations Peoples in Australia: what can lawyers contribute to the current debates and their resolution?’

The authors, who were aware that their views might not reflect those of the First Nations Peoples of Australia, argued that the problems facing First Nations Peoples required a unique legal response which goes beyond the traditional role of the lawyer.

“Movement lawyering is a new theory but an old practice that involves lawyers aligning with a movement and contributing their uniquely legal skills for the cause,” the trio wrote. “It means lawyers must commit to proactive community engagement and expand their work to incorporate the roles of translators, facilitators, educators and journalists.”

The 14 essays submitted for the $10,000 award canvassed constitutional recognition, treaty, interactions with the criminal justice system, gender, domestic violence, child protection and land rights.


Former High Court judge the Honourable William Gummow AC chaired the judging panel. He was joined by Professor Gabrielle Appleby and Tony McAvoy SC, Australia’s first Indigenous silk.

The judges said they were impressed by all the (anonymised) submissions, but considered that one essay in particular had the edge.

“The authors undertook a rich analysis of the role that movement lawyering has played and can play in the furthering of First Nations interests,” they said.

“Incorporating new research on movement lawyering, as well as deeply engaging with the scholarship, it was in equal parts academically rigorous and practically focused.”

Australian Academy of Law President Alan Robertson said the annual essay competition was an important part of achieving the academy’s goal of promoting high standards of legal research, scholarship and education.

“Each year we set a question which will further this goal and challenge lawyers to focus on important legal issues in need of resolution,” he said.


The trio are scheduled to be honoured for their prize-winning essay at a ceremony in Brisbane next month (date TBA). Ms Burgess has been Associate to Justice Philip McMurdo, Mr Maitra to Justice Hugh Fraser and Ms Marrama to Justice John Bond.

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