Julia Quilter never fancied herself as a law person.
"I don't think I particularly liked studying law when I first started studying," she muses, sitting against a backdrop of law textbooks and papers.
"I always loved my English subjects, loved doing humanities type work. In fact, I absolutely hated studying law when I started my Arts Law degree. I ended up focusing more on my theory and English subjects and then went off to do a PhD in Critical and Cultural Theory."
Describing her journey into the field as "always a slightly fraught one, but in the end a very happy one", Julia has been positioned as a leading expert on criminal law and justice and currently holds the position of Associate Professor in UOW's School of Law.
"I graduated from my PhD and law degree within a month of each other, which I suppose is fairly unusual. I thought I may as well apply for some of those large corporate law firms, because that's what everybody seems to do - I didn't think any of them would want to take me anyway," she laughs.
"It turns out they did."
Julia spent the first 10 years of her legal career practising in criminal and constitutional law as a solicitor and barrister, spending just 12 months in the corporate world before moving into the public sector.
"I absolutely did not like working in corporate, it was an incredibly good workplace but it just wasn't for me."
Spending the next few years at the NSW State Crown Solicitor's Office and as the Special Counsel to the NSW Solicitor General and Crown Advocate, Julia appeared as junior counsel in constitutional and criminal law matters in the High Court, NSW Court of Appeal and NSW Court of Criminal Appeal. She was part of a team that looked at sentencing laws advising on new standard non-parole sentencing and was junior counsel in a number of guideline judgments.
"I had the most amazing opportunity to work with incredibly personable and smart people and it was a fascinating time to be in that environment," she reminisces.
Working at the cutting edge of law with some of the best legal minds in the country, Julia was exposed to every aspect of criminal law. She continued working at the Crown Solicitor's Office in a part-time capacity after the birth of her first child as well as doing some part-time teaching at the University of NSW, getting her hand back into the academic side of the law.
"I kind of fell into practice. I enjoyed it very much, but I always felt a bit limited by the law because you have to work within its parameters and I think I would prefer to think outside the law for other types of solutions," she says.
A move into politics for her husband, Labor MP Stephen Jones, led to a sea change and a posting at UOW, where Julia continued her work in the criminal justice field as a researcher and criminal law lecturer.
A knee-jerk reaction
Julia began to research in the area of alcohol-related violence following the death of Thomas Kelly in 2012 from a 'king-hit' by Kieran Loveridge in Sydney's Kings Cross.
"What interested me about this particular matter was how different the community and legal responses were to this tragic death."
"The responses of the media, community, police and the government after his death, were not your classic 'law and order' ones. Instead, there was a campaign to make a positive difference in relation to alcohol-related violence in order to prevent this type of tragedy re-occurring."
Julia began looking into this progressive populist movement, delving into the more positive and less punitive legal responses of the government. Her article on the responses to Kelly's death argues that we need to take populism more seriously, given the "undoubtedly populist, but far more nuanced, government response following Kelly's death than those more traditionally seen from state governments in the past".
As the case progressed to the sentencing of Loveridge, however, the discourse changed dramatically. The six-year sentence Loveridge received for Kelly's manslaughter was widely perceived to be too lenient, sparking outrage from the media and public. The government returned to a more traditional 'law and order' knee-jerk response, announcing a new one-punch law. Julia began exploring the appropriateness and effectiveness of such laws.
"The first jurisdiction to introduce a one-punch law was WA and my research into the operation of that law shows that sentences for such matters have been low, indeed lower than those for manslaughter in NSW," she claims in a 2013 article written for The Conversation.
"The real controversy in the Loveridge matter was the perceived leniency in sentence not the availability of offences. So, why introduce a special one-punch offence with a maximum penalty lower than that for manslaughter?"
In January 2014, following a further tragic death (of Daniel Christie on New Year's Even 2013) from another one-punch attack in Kings Cross, the NSW Parliament responded in classic law and order fashion enacting two new homicide offences: assault causing death and an aggravated version where the offender is intoxicated.
Julia has written extensively about the legal and operational problems with the NSW one-punch law. In October 2016 she gave a TedX talk entitled 'When is criminal law the answer?' which sheds light on the consequences of politically driven law, using the one-punch law as an example of why creating new offences should be a last resort, reserved for cases where there is a genuine gap.