I haven’t really had a single career if you like, I’ve stepped between practice and teaching.
One of ANU Law’s most dynamic senior lecturers is Dr Anthony Hopkins BA (UOW) LLB (QUT) (Hons) PhD (Canberra); Barrister (ACT). Dr Hopkins’ expertise in criminal law, sentencing and the rights of Indigenous Australians is invaluable to the ANU Law School and to the people for whom he speaks out.
Appointed to the College in 2014, Dr Hopkins came to us with an unusual background that has informed his approach to teaching and the way in which students respond to him. He began his career as a criminal defence lawyer in Alice Springs at the Central Australian Aboriginal Legal Aid Service. After taking time off to raise his children, Dr Hopkins returned to the law as a lecturer at the University of Canberra in 2008. There he taught Criminal Law, Evidence Law, Advocacy and Indigenous Australians and the Law, receiving awards for his innovative teaching approaches designed to take students as close as possible to the coalface of practice.
One example of this is his involvement as a faculty advisor for the Law Reform and Social Justice program’s Prison Issues Project. Through the project, students have the opportunity to engage with people incarcerated in the Alexander Maconochie Centre, facilitating workshops on law and legal issues of interest to detainees.
Dr Hopkins says it is crucial for students to pursue projects that reflect the motivations that drew them to studying law in the first place.
“A lot of students come to law school with an idea that they want to help, and particularly they want to help people who are disadvantaged, but it’s very vague at that point. What doing work experience or clinical placements does, is it really puts you on the ground and with people. So you realise ‘this is how my legal skills can actually benefit others’, and I think that then has a feedback loop into how you learn.
“On one level, the sooner you can have that engagement with people and realise the power of your law skills, and your legal learning, the easier it then becomes to continue through and maintain that purpose. And if it is your purpose to help the vulnerable and underprivileged, then that also allows you to say ‘my path is this’, and there are so many possible paths.”
It is a question Dr Hopkins has not yet settled for himself, which is why he straddles two career paths. In addition to his substantial teaching load, Dr Hopkins remains a practicing barrister – he was called to the bar in 2010, joining Burley Griffin Chambers in the ACT – with a focus on sentencing and appellate criminal cases.
“I haven’t really had a single career if you like, I’ve stepped between practice and teaching. Partly that’s around what works and fits with who I am as a person, but it’s also guided very much by what difference I feel I can make for other people, whether it’s directly for clients in court or through teaching, supporting and advising students to pursue their potential.”
Dr Hopkins represents the Bar Association and the ANU College of Law on the ACT Justice Reform Strategy Advisory Group, focusing on innovations in sentencing and corrections designed to reduce incarceration rates. Much of his published work also looks at sentencing, particularly for Aboriginal Australians, as well as how non-custodial sentences can improve rehabilitation and reduce recidivism.
“Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people make up over half the juveniles in detention, and 27 per cent of the adult prison population despite being only two per cent of the wider population. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women are the fastest growing group of prisoners, making up 34 per cent of the female custodial population. We should be calling this situation what it is, a catastrophe, and a matter that should cause more than alarm, but should drive real action to reduce these numbers.”
Dr Hopkins also speaks and writes about the need for the criminal justice system and the judicial processes within it to take a solution focus which squarely faces the multiple disadvantages experienced by so many who are caught up in the system, whilst also acknowledging individual resilience and potential.
“Solutions need to tackle the issues which bring a person to the courts in the first place such as mental illness, childhood trauma, addiction, and racial marginalisation. Drug courts and judicial supervision taking place in an open-court enables the success of rehabilitation to be applauded rather than simply having failures as the focus of the story.”
This month Dr Hopkins was awarded for his teaching excellence at the ANU College of Law Academic Staff Awards.