This research set out ‘to survey the knowledge, attitudes, practices and training deficits within Queensland criminal justice agencies in regard to Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD)’.
Between September and October 2011 judges, magistrates and legal professionals in Queensland were surveyed to determine their awareness and understanding of FASD. The survey also covered the impact that FASD has on their practice as well and their information and training needs.
The researchers initially aimed to survey: judicial officers and lawyers; correctional services officers; and police but were unable to obtain approval from correctional services or police to conduct the survey. However several meetings were held with relevant senior staff.
Ultimately 39 lawyers and 49 members of Queensland judiciary completed the survey. This included 37 magistrates, nine judges of the District Court and two judges of the Supreme Court. However due to the high workloads in both professions the response rates are low and the results should not be considered representative.
Significantly the research found that there are no specific policies or approaches to FASD in either profession. While most of the judicial members and lawyers who were surveyed stated that they were aware of FASD all agreed that there were insufficient resources available to either understand or change practices. This was especially clear in relation to diagnosis and assessment of FASD, with both professions urgently needing to know where people could be sent to receive an assessment. Overall the research found that there is an urgent need for FASD information to be made available to those working in this sector and for policies to be developed on how to change practice when working with a person who has FASD.
The research found that:
The research found a clear need for education and resources for both professions on FASD. The researchers recommend that this could achieved by adapting the resources that are available in the Canadian criminal justice system to the Australian system. This could include:
Future research is required to compare and contrast the research undertaken in Queensland with similar research undertaken with members of the judiciary and legal profession in Western Australian.
Professor Heather Douglas, T. C. Beirne School of Law, University of Queensland
Dr Janet Hammill, Centre for Clinical Research, University of Queensland
Professor Wayne Hall, Centre for Clinical Research, University of Queensland
Ms Elizabeth Russell, Russell Family Fetal Alcohol Disorders Association