Mary Spiers Williams is a lecturer at the ANU College of Law. She has broad range of experience in criminal law and criminology research, teaching, practice, policy and advocacy. Her research is on impacts of state law on Indigenous peoples and the phenomenon of transnational law. Her doctoral research is concerned with legal concepts of culture in sentencing law in the Northern Territory.
The Centre for International and Public Law is proud to host a panel discussion during National Reconciliation Week. Each panel member will speak on an aspect of their research that affects Indigenous communities.
Please note, only a small selection of recent publications and activities are listed below.
Mary’s research focus is social justice and criminal law, particularly on the impacts of state law and legal processes on vulnerable peoples. Her research is influenced by sociolegal scholarship, Australian Aboriginal laws and Indigenous perspectives on state and transnational legal orders.
Mary’s current major project is doctoral research examining a legal concept of culture in of sentencing law and practice. This research is a multi-streamed analysis that draws upon theoretical perspectives of social field theory, colonisation, legal pluralism and legal orientalism. She uses this to analyse ethnographic fieldwork conducted in central Australian courts and communities. Here she observed and recorded otherwise unreported summary court cases, the jurisdiction which disposes of the vast majority of sentencing matters. In order to explore the concept of culture used in sentencing law, her thesis engages in a broader examination of the epistemology of sentencing law, examining gaps and opportunities to render it more coherent, and reimagines sentencing law in light of sociolegal perspectives.
Mary’s research interests are inspired by her experience as a solicitor and barrister, criminology researcher, policy maker and advocate, and ongoing collaborations in those fields. Her research inspires her teaching, which includes teaching courses that situate the criminal law in context and encourage examining law from global and local perspectives.
Research projects & collaborations
- Doctoral research: "A legal concept of culture in sentencing law: case studies from central Australia."
- Spaces of Indigenous Justice: an international research collaboration hosted by the University of Arizona.
- Indigenous rights, recognition and the state in the neoliberal age hosted by Centre for Aboriginal Economic Policy Research, Australian National University
- Criminal Law Workshop 2017, University of New South Wales
- Youth Justice Research Project with ANU Law students and central Australian legal pracititioners
- Translocal Law Research Group, Transnational Law Institute, Kings College London
- Australian Postgraduate Award 2010-14
- Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies Research Grant 2011
Refereed journal articles
- 'Justice Reinvestment: The cost benefits of trusting and supporting Indigenous People to mediate their troubles', 8:22 Indigenous Law Bulletin (2016) 21
- 'Why are there no adult community courts operating in the Northern Territory of Australia?', Indigenous Law Bulletin 8.4 (2013): 7
- 'Making Sense of Riot: The Fragile Legitimacy of Police Powers and Public Order Offences in an Intervention' (2012) in Bartkowiak-Théron, I. & Travers, M. (eds) The 6th Annual Australian and New Zealand Critical Criminology Conference Proceedings 2012, University of Tasmania: Hobart (pg 74-89) available at: SSRN or the referreed papers
- 'The Impossibility of Community Justice whilst there is Intervention' (2011), 5th Annual Australian and New Zealand Critical Criminology Conference proceedings, 7-8 July 2011, James Cook University, Cairns Campus, available at: referreed papers or SSRN
- 'Summary disposal of criminal offences under s 32 Mental Health (Criminal Procedure) Act 1990' (2004) 16(2) Judicial Officers Bulletin 1, 1. available at Criminal Law Review Division, New South Wales Attorney General's Department
Conference papers & presentations
- 'Can thinking about 'culture' ameliorate poor justice outcomes in sentencing?', Law and Society Association of Australia and New Zealand, University of Otago, Dunedin, New Zealand, 8 December 2017.
- 'The Findings of the NT Royal Commission into Child Detention: Overview and Implications', panel discussion with students from the ANU Law School's Youth Justice Research Group, 27 November 2017, Australian National University, Canberra.
‘Taking responsibility for the way we think about state law: recognising the negative impacts of state laws, legal systems, legal training and legal scholarship on Indigenous peoples’, National Reconciliation Week Panel, Centre for International and Public Law, ANU Law School, 1 June 2017.
Facilitator of Panel Discussion for the Law Students Society, ‘LSS Presents: Indigenous Australians & The Law’ panel of The Hon Labor MP Linda Burney, Ms Jacinta Nampijinpa Price, Alice Springs town councillor, and Associate Professor Asmi Wood responding to student questions on legal issues affecting Indigenous peoples, 3 May 2017.
‘Responding to Don Dale: Coming to terms with our irresponsibility as legal practitioners for young people’s experience in detention centres’, Annual Australian and New Zealand Society of Criminology, University of Tasmania, Hobart, 1 December 2016.
- Invited speaker, Annual Postgraduate Workshop, Law and Society Association of Australia and New Zealand Annual Conference, 30 November 2017
- ‘Neoliberalism as ‘System Upgrade’ in Australian Colonialism: a story told through two Legislative Provisions’, Indigenous Rights, Recognition and the state in the neoliberal age Symposium, CAEPR, ANU, Canberra, 21 November 2016 (invited speaker)
- 'Reflections on the legal field’s responsibility for young offenders’ experience of detention', National Indigenous Law Conference, Australian National University, 6 September 2016 (Invited speaker)
- Invited Speaker, Launch: Community is Everything Photo Exhibition, Amnesty exhibition, Tuggeranong Arts Centre, 7 July 2016 (invited speaker)
- Facilitator, 'Imagining alternative justice futures for Indigenous children in the ACT,' A Change the Record – Community is Everything Community Forum Hosted by ANTaR ACT and Amnesty ANU, supported by the ANU College of Law Reconciliation Action Plan Committee, ANU College of Law, Australian National University, 30 May 2016.
- ‘Impacts of the prison-penitentiary on criminal law and community perceptions of justice’, ACT/SNSW Branch Annual General Meeting, Friends Meeting House, Canberra, ACT, 14 May 2016 (Invited Speaker)
- ‘The ongoing relevance of the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody’, Amnesty ANU & SUNSW/ACT Amnesty, screening of Who Killed Malcolm Smith? to mark the anniversary of the RCIADIC, ANU College of Law, Canberra, 18 April 2016.
- 'Epistemic violence inherent in land claims: the damage done to Aboriginal law', ANU Law Reform and Social Justice Screening of Putuparri and the Rainmakers, China in the World Centre, 21 March 2016 (Invited speaker)
- 'Mass incarceration of Aboriginal people in Australia: can law be emancipatory?, Inside Out, (Annual Law and Society Association of Australia and New Zealand), Flinders University, Adelaide, 1-3 December 2015.
- 'Community is Everything,' speaker at Amnesty International Forum advocacy group, Australian National University, 21 October 2015 (Invited speaker)
- 'Obstacles to justice reinvestment,' speaker at launch of the Change the Record Campaign, Australians for Native Title and Reconciliation, Manning Clark House, Canberra, 13 August 2015 (Invited speaker)
- ‘In the Two Kangaroos Court’ (2015), Spaces of Indigenous Justice Workshop II, to be held The University of Arizona in Tucson, Arizona USA from April 7-8 2015. (Invited speaker)
- ‘Concepts of public and private in the criminal law: their role in legitimising criminalisation and suppressing subaltern perspectives on place’ (2014), Public Places, Private Lives Conference (Annual Law and Society Association of Australia and New Zealand), University of Queensland, 3-5 December 2014.
- 'Sentencing indigenous offenders in light of the Bugmy decision: the importance of not conflating ‘difference’ with "deviance"' (2014), National Judicial College of Australia Sentencing Conference, Canberra, 6 February 2014 (Invited speaker)
- 'Mr Bugmy’s appeal to the High Court and the idea of "Indigenous sentencing principles"' National Centre for Indigenous Studies, ANU, Higher Degree Research Retreat 2013 Canberra 19 September 2013
- 'Legal conceptions of culture and its effect on sentencing. A sociolegal examination of one law reform’s impact on sentencing principle, practice and process in the Northern Territory of Australia.' Oral presentation, ANU College of Law, 31 July 2013
- 'The Impact of the things that we do: Concerns about the Unintended Consequences of Imagining Alternative Justice Futures in Aboriginal Communities.' The 7th Annual Australian & New Zealand Critical Criminology Conference, 23 July 2013, Adelaide, South Australia
- 'Making justice more meaningful in one Aboriginal community: Possibilities emerging from sharing law ceremonies to enhance mutual respect' (with Wanta Jambajimba Patrick) (2012) 11th Symposium on Indigenous Music and Dance, 1 December 2012, Canberra.
- 'Makings sense of "Riot": the fragile legitimacy of police powers and public order offences in an Intervention.' (2012) 6th Annual Australian and New Zealand Critical Criminology Conference Program Hobart.
- 'Kardiya law and Yapa law: can two laws work together? Can we make criminal justice processes more meaningful for Yapa people?' (2011) Presentation to the Kurdiji Law and Justice Committee, Lajamanu, Northern Territory of Australia
- 'The Impossibility of Communitarian Justice whilst there is Intervention.' (2011) 5th Annual Australian and New Zealand Critical Criminology Conference Program Cairns
- 'Undesirable and unintended consequences of monetary penalties: the problem of enforcement' (2011) A Symposium on Indigenous Sentencing, Punishment and Healing, The Cairns Institute
- 'Riot, Gender and the Elision of Identity in a Central Australian Sentencing Court' (2011) Gender and Human Rights: Dialogues with Sally Engle Merry, Australian National University, March 2011
- ‘Recognising the value of radical difference between researcher and participant: how it can be a positive aspect of data gathering’ (2010), Postgraduate Workshop of the Australian and New Zealand Society of Criminology Conference, September 2010, Alice Springs
- ‘Transplantation of Anglo courts to the Frontier - meaning and mystification’ (2010) Australian and New Zealand Society of Criminology Conference, October 2010, Alice Springs
- ‘The dramatic increase in powers to police Aboriginal people in the Northern Territory: What little is gained for such a high price’ (2008) Australian and New Zealand Society of Criminology Conference, Canberra
- ‘The challenge of bringing two laws together: The introduction of a Yapa community court’ (2008) Australian and New Zealand Society of Criminology Conference, Canberra
- ‘Opportunities Postmodernism offers for Tasmanian Land Rights’ (1996), presented at Australian and New Zealand Society of Criminology Annual Conference, Victoria University of Wellington, Wellington, New Zealand, February 1996.
‘Response to request for submissions to assist the Commission to plan its future work,’ Submission to the Royal Commission into the Protection and Detention of Children in the Northern Territory, 26 October 2016.
- Law and Society Association of Australia and New Zealand, Executive Committee member and/or Postgraduate representative 2013-2017
- Law Reform and Social Justice Advisory Committee, ANU College of Law
- Reconciliation Action Plan Sub-Commitee, ANU College of Law
Other committees and networks
- ANU Ally Network for LGBTIQ+ inclusion, supporting a diverse and inclusive ANU.
- National Indigenous Research and Knowledge Network
Vice-Chancellor's Award for Reconciliation, 2017, Australian National University
Fellow, Transnational Law Summer Institute, 2015, Kings College London
Law and Society Assocation of Australia and New Zealand Scholarship, Public and/or Private Conference, Brisbane 2014
Canadian Law and Society Assocation Scholarship, Law on the Edge Conference, Vancouver 2013
Honours thesis supervision
I supervise students undertaking dissertations concerned with social justice in the areas of:
- Criminal law
- Evidence law
- Criminal justice process
- Indigenous perspectives on state law
Recent supervision LLB/JD Honours students
Student: Zoe Neumeyer
Topic: 'The Hardening Effect Of Appellate Processes When Sending Youth To Detention. An analysis of judgements from the Northern Territory Supreme Court'
Student: Anna Boden
Topic: 'A critical analysis of the jurisprudence on the unfairness discretion: will section 90 be exercised to exclude an admission procured by police deceit?'
I have previously supervised in:
- The admissibility of admissions obtained relying on police deceitful practices
- The contemporary relevance of the right to silence
- Therapeutic jurisprudence and procedural justice
|Year||Course code||Course name|
|Clinical Youth Law Program|
|Clinical Youth Law Program|
|Clinical Youth Law Program|
|Clinical Youth Law Program|
Philosophy & approach
Many students now seem to be under considerable pressure. How students respond to this pressure can have a significant impact on their learning experience. In order to make the most of learning opportunities, students need to be as relaxed, happy and grounded as possible and I try to create a space for this to happen in the class room. Having said this, I demand a lot of students and will not simply deliver content. Rather, I give students the chance to test their knowledge and to feel free to make mistakes in this experimental space. While it is important to provide students with a framework for problem solving and knowledge acquisition that can carry them through a course, my role as a teacher is to create a space for students to develop autonomy and work collaboratively. I endeavour to engage with all students as much as possible given the constraints.
In order for students to understand law it is necessary to develop knowledge and skills in legal doctrine and its application together with an understanding of the context of the application, in particular its broad social impact. I’ve found that students are more engaged if they understand the purpose of the law and can see themselves in that. In the courses that I teach there is wonderful opportunity to help students realise how their practice of the law can have a real and positive impact on the lives of people and in that process on society generally.
University is a unique moment in our lives, and it is important to me that the class room experience is rich one.
ANU College of Law
Criminal Justice (Criminal Law in Context) (2016, 2017, 2018)
Youth Law Clinic Programme (2017)
Criminal Law and Procedure (2015, 2016, 2017)
Evidence (2014, 2015, 2016)
Lawyers, justice and ethics (2014)
Crime and Criminal Process, UNSW (2014)
Criminal Laws, UNSW (2010-2012)
Penology, UNSW (2012)
Criminal law in action, Monash University (2013)
Sentencing, University of Adelaide (2009)
Evidence, University of Adelaide (2009)
Advocacy, University of Adelaide (2009)
Criminal law and procedure, University of Adelaide (2009)
Criminal law, University of Sydney (2000-2003)
A legal concept of culture: the effect on sentencing
Mary’s doctoral research examines a legal concept of culture in of sentencing law and practice. This research is a multi-streamed analysis that draws upon theoretical perspectives of social field theory, colonisation, legal pluralism and legal orientalism. She uses this to analyse ethnographic fieldwork conducted in central Australian courts and communities, where she observed and recorded otherwise unreported summary court cases in the jurisdiction that disposes of the vast majority of sentencing matters. In order to explore the concept of culture used in sentencing law, her thesis engages in a broader examination of the epistemology of sentencing law, examining gaps and opportunities to render it more coherent, and reimagines sentencing law in light of sociolegal perspectives.