Hot Topics aims to provide information on often controversial areas of the law that are being widely discussed in the media. The Legal Information Access Centre (known as “LIAC”), based in the State Library of New South Wales produces four Hot Topics a year on different areas of the law, and distributes them free of charge to every public library in NSW, as well as to Legal Aid offices and community legal centres in NSW.
Issues are also available for sale to the public through LIAC. The hope is that Hot Topics will provide a resource for interested members of the community who would like to build an understanding of an issue that has more depth than can be gleaned from the often sensationalised reports in newspapers and on television and radio.
A recent edition, "Terrorism", is a good example. It was written for LIAC by Dr Ben Saul, Senior Lecturer at the University of Sydney, who specialises in public international law, particularly anti-terrorism law, humanitarian law, international criminal law and human rights law and has been widely published.
When the copies of "Terrorism" were distributed to public libraries, the following comment was received from a librarian: “The new Hot Topics arrived today - interesting reading! It’s great to see that LIAC has jumped on something that is changing all the time, and opened up the topic of terrorism for study and discussion, not just uninformed paranoia - well done!”
The examination of terrorism describes it as “age-old problem with no easy solutions” beginning with the difficulties the international community has had with defining terrorism - does it have to be directed against a state? Can private violence qualify as terrorism? What about liberation struggles?
It attempts to place terrorism in the context of the history of world violence, and looks at the legal measures the international community has put into place to combat threats from terrorism. Understanding the legal issues involved in areas, such as the use of force, international humanitarian law, torture, refugee law and Australia’s anti-terror laws, provides a sound platform from which to evaluate ongoing developments.
Recent developments in Australian legislation are detailed, such as sedition, preventive detention orders, and increased ASIO powers. Some criticisms of the new legislative regime have included that the period of detention for non-suspects is excessive (at seven days), that the availability of legal advice and representation are limited, and that the penalties for disclosing “operational information” are excessive (up to five years imprisonment).
Case studies throughout, also remind us that people’s lives can be greatly affected by the measures taken to counter terrorism, and we need to be aware that a balance must be struck between individual liberty and public safety. This is a real issue in Australia which has adopted more anti-terrorist laws than the UK or the US, and doesn’t have a Bill of Rights. Finally this resource provides suggestions for readily accessible further reading for those who wish to follow developments in the future, or gain a deeper understanding of the issues involved.
Other recent issues in the series look at same-sex families, shelter, drugs and the law and sexual assault. The next issue to be published will be on the Australian legal system, written by the Public Interest Advocacy Centre, and will be available in late June.
Consider visiting your local library for other plain language information about the law - particularly if you need information to help answer a legal question, or help you prepare for a visit to a solicitor. LIAC has a collection in libraries that have been selected by specialist law librarians to answer frequently asked legal questions. The collection, called The Legal Toolkit is updated twice yearly to ensure its currency.
Many central libraries have additional expertise and more substantial resources to help you answer more complex enquiries.
The LIAC service in the State Library of NSW also operates a telephone inquiry service to help people with legal information needs, and the centre has a comprehensive law library collection. LIAC also has online resources for legal studies students. You can visit the website to find resources on selecting and researching a criminal case, and to help with researching for an assessment task.
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