Lessons from the coalface: Critical reflections of a lawyer working in the Victorian Assessment and Referral Court List

Tania Wolff

First Step Legal

This paper reflects on the experiences of a legal practitioner who has been involved in the ARC list, Victoria’s mental health court, as a legal practitioner since its inception in 2010 and who has witnessed first hand the positive impact of the court on a variety of clients with differing levels of functioning and complexity of mental illness. This paper draws on a number of case studies to argue that the court has proved to be a touchstone of therapeutic jurisprudence and non-adversarial justice for the vulnerable; where the theory seamlessly aligns with the practice. However, despite the success of the list and the model, this paper also reflects on its limitations which challenge the Court’s ability to be an optimal therapeutic agent.


Tania Wolff is an Accredited Specialist in Criminal Law by the Law Institute of Victoria and appears regularly as a solicitor advocate in court. Since 2012 she has been the Principal Lawyer of First Step Legal, a specialist, criminal law focused CLC within a mental health and drug and alcohol treatment and rehabilitation clinic. Prior to this role, Tania has worked in private practice in commercial law and as in house legal counsel before working as a criminal lawyer with David Grace QC. She has a particular focus on drug and alcohol related criminal offending and a commitment to advancing therapeutic jurisprudence and justice reinvestment initiatives.

About the Association

The Australasian Institute of Judicial Administration (AIJA) is a research and educational institute associated with Monash University. It is funded by the Law, Crime and Community Safety Council (LCCSC) and also from subscription income from its membership.

The principal objectives of the Institute include research into judicial administration and the development and conduct of educational programmes for judicial officers, court administrators and members of the legal profession in relation to court administration and judicial systems.

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