Queensland judges associates win essay prize with bail reform argument

The winning entry in the Australian Academy of Law’s 2022 Essay competition argues that there is a strong need to change the bail system to address the disproportionate burden it places on the most vulnerable and disadvantaged in society.

From left: Chief Justice Helen Bowskill and Federal Court Judge Anthony Besanko with prizewinners Catherine Bugler and Alice Muir.

The winning entry was submitted by Catherine Bugler (QUT) and Alice Muir (UQ), who both work as associates to judges of the Supreme Court of Queensland.

In the essay, they focus on the bail system and what they contend are systemic inequalities which fail to accommodate cultural, gendered and socio-economic differences:

“The current system is working to perpetuate pervasive inequalities and disproportionately disadvantages three vulnerable groups: Indigenous Australians, women, and people experiencing homelessness.”

They detail the main areas of concern and propose several pragmatic solutions, including: tailoring bail conditions according to the unique needs of specific groups like Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, varying the reporting and fixed address conditions in recognition of homeless people and those who have cultural reasons for travelling, incorporating social services into the court system, and mandating cultural education for judicial officers involved in bail determinations.


The $10,000 annual essay competition posed the question:

“What are one or more reforms that could be made to remedy deficiencies in the administration by Australian courts of the criminal law as it applies to minorities or disadvantaged groups?”

The judging panel of former High Court Justice Professor William Gummow AC, Emeritus Professor Kate Warner AC and Tim Game SC praised the essay as “a thoughtful and perceptive consideration of relevant doctrinal and practical issues”.

Chief Justice Helen Bowskill presented the award to Catherine and Alice at a ceremony in Brisbane last night. The winning essay is available on the Academy of Law website and will also appear in a 2023 edition of the Australian Law Journal.

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