04 August 2015


The Canberra Times reports "A former Soviet soldier has pleaded guilty to using restricted federal police databases to stalk an ex-girlfriend who left him over his marriage to a Russian woman". Privacy aspects aside, the reporting is interesting for indications of vetting failures at the Australian Federal Police.

In June the CT reported that "A former Australian Federal Police counter-terrorism member managed to hide two foreign passports, a Russian bride with a seemingly forged ID, his chequered past with NSW police, and Bulgarian property interests from his employer, a court has heard." Roman Eiginson reportedly entered Australia in 1991 using a Soviet Union passport, having worked as a soldier and police officer. "He became an Australian Protective Service officer in 2001, and was absorbed into the AFP, where he worked in the counter-terrorism area and, most recently, the treasury section."

 Eiginson attracted attention earlier this year when his now ex-girlfriend accused him of stalking. 
Investigations later revealed that Eiginson had allegedly accessed protected AFP information from a police database to help track down his ex-lover's new partner in an apparent attempt to split them up. He was arrested and charged ... 
The court heard police, upon raiding his house, had found a passport that pictured Eiginson's wife but under a different name. The AFP, who require employees to tell them of relationships with foreign nationals, say they had no knowledge of Eiginson's Russian wife or her potentially fake passport. A federal agent said there were fears that Eiginson himself may be able to get access to fake passports. Police say they have also found a Kazakh passport, a Ukrainian passport, and know of an Australian passport, all in Eiginson's name. 
The AFP said they had no idea about the existence of the Ukrainian passport or the Kazakh passport, which has expired, while Eiginson was employed with them. 
The raid also uncovered NSW police uniforms, and the AFP later found out that Eiginson had been a recruit with NSW police. 
But it emerged he was not offered a spot in the force due to allegations he plagiarised from another student. The AFP, again, was not aware of that information during Eiginson's employment.

His bail hearing noted
when he was arrested, Mr Eiginson had in his possession a police warrant card and a badge, neither of which items had been issued to him.
The CT goes on to comment
Eiginson, police say, had also neglected to tell the AFP that he was in a de-facto relationship with the ex-partner who has now accused him of stalking. 
He is facing six charges, including stalking, divulging prescribed information, and unauthorised access of prescribed information. 
The court heard a number of "sensitive" investigations are ongoing, and that the Department of Immigration and Border Protection were also looking into the matter.

03 August 2015


'Who’s Distressed? Not Only Law Students: Psychological Distress Levels in University Students Across Diverse Fields of Study' by Wendy Larcombe, Sue Finch and Rachel Sore in (2015) 37(2) Sydney Law Review 243 comments
Empirical studies consistently find that law students report high levels of psychological distress. But are law students at heightened risk among their university peers? The few available comparative studies suggest that law students may experience higher levels of psychological distress than their counterparts in medical degrees. However, data are scarce that compare the distress levels of students in law with students in non-medical programs. The study reported here addressed that gap by comparing the prevalence of psychological distress among law students and non-law students undertaking diverse academic programs at both undergraduate and graduate levels. The findings show that a significant proportion of students in diverse fields and at all levels of study reported high levels of psychological distress. Moreover, the law students’ odds of reporting severe symptoms of psychological distress were not the highest on any of the measures used. Overall, the findings suggest that law students are not alone among university students in experiencing high levels of psychological distress. We discuss the implications of this finding for current efforts to address student wellbeing in legal education.
The authors state
Empirical studies in the United States and Australia have consistently found that law students experience high levels of psychological distress. While results from the various studies are generally not directly comparable, the consistency in findings seems to indicate that there are common factors in legal education that contribute to student distress, notwithstanding wide variations in teaching practices, learning environments and regulatory frameworks across institutions and countries. Factors ‘typical’ of legal education posited to undermine students’ mental wellbeing include: the competitive academic environment in law schools, exacerbated by normative grading and heavily weighted exams; high-stakes prizes for achievement (narrowly defined) and the shrinking legal job market; an emphasis on analytical, adversarial argumentation at the expense of experiential and value-driven thinking; high student–teacher ratios and traditional or Socratic teaching methods that further preclude students’ formation of meaningful interpersonal relationships with teachers and classmates; a highly constrained curriculum (driven by admission to practice requirements) that limits students’ exploration of established or emerging interests; high workloads, especially reading requirements, coupled with the conceptual challenges involved in learning to ‘think like a lawyer’; and the self-selection into law of certain ‘personality’ types who may tend to be driven, perfectionistic or achievement-oriented.  
In an effort to redress and minimise such stressors, law schools in Australia have introduced a range of initiatives and reforms in recent years. Many of these have been informed by a branch of psychology called ‘Self-Determination Theory’ (SDT), especially as it has been applied to legal education by Kennon Sheldon and Lawrence Krieger in the US. SDT posits that there are ‘basic’, universal psychological needs that must be consistently met — across the different domains of life — to sustain intrinsic motivation and psychological wellbeing. Applied to legal education, SDT-informed research and practice concentrates on students’ needs for relatedness, or meaningful connections with others, competence and autonomy and the ways in which these needs may be supported (or undermined) by conditions and practices in specific learning and institutional environments. Assessment practices, curriculum design, cohort interactions, law school culture, and strategies to build competence in ‘threshold’ discipline skills are often the focus of SDT-informed work in legal education. Insights from Positive Psychology have also been drawn on in more student-centred wellbeing initiatives. These typically aim to build students’ psychological literacy and resilience, self-management and relationship skills, and develop cognitive strategies to manage uncertainty, change and adversity. Such initiatives are likely to have multiple benefits for law students, during and beyond law school. However, their impacts on students’ levels of psychological distress have not been empirically assessed to date. Moreover, the impact of law schools’ efforts to improve student wellbeing will be limited or even undermined if external or environmental causes of law student distress are not also addressed.  
An important, but as yet unanswered, research question is whether it is legal education that is particularly stressful for students. There is some evidence to suggest that university students in general experience high levels of psychological distress. These findings are supported by data from university health and counselling services who report increased demand from students, and also increasing numbers of students experiencing severe mental health difficulties. Some United Kingdom (UK) commentators suggest that the pressures on university students have increased in recent years as a result of reductions in government allowances, widening participation agendas and more limited job prospects for graduates — factors common to other national contexts. Australian research highlights changes in the university ‘student experience’ as students spend less time on university campuses and more time in paid employment. Moreover, when on campus, increases in student intakes and class sizes make it more difficult for contemporary students to feel they are known by university staff members and to make friends in classes. The extent to which such factors may be prompting psychological distress among university students is not yet known.  
It is also unknown whether law students are presently at heightened risk of experiencing psychological distress among their university peers. Most of the research with general university student populations has not collected data on students’ field of study or academic discipline. However, for legal educators, the question of whether law students experience higher rates of psychological distress than students in other academic disciplines is of considerable importance, particularly in guiding work to support student mental wellbeing. In short, knowing whether law students are at increased risk relative to other cohorts of university students can tell us where and how to direct attention and resources. In particular, such knowledge would afford legal educators some insight into the extent to which law-specific curricula or ‘personality’ factors may be contributing to the high levels of distress reported by law students. Similarly, knowledge of relative risk would afford insight into the extent to which study in other disciplines contributes to student distress. Given that many law students in Australia undertake ‘combined’ degrees — combining study in law with another Bachelor program — it is particularly important to know whether efforts to support law student mental wellbeing may be more effective if designed in collaboration across disciplines. In this way, studies of student psychological wellbeing that investigate academic discipline (or field of study) can contribute to evidence-based, good practice in supporting university student mental health.  
Data are scarce that compare the mental wellbeing of students in law with students in other fields of academic study. Moreover, almost all the limited existing research has compared the mental health of medical and law students, on the basis that both programs are academically challenging, entry-to-profession degrees with demanding workloads. Medical educators, like legal educators, have been concerned for decades about the impacts on future practitioners of forms of professional training that appear to produce or trigger very high levels of psychological distress. And, while medical training has long been considered ‘high pressure’, studies comparing medical and law students’ distress levels have often found that the law students report even higher levels of psychological distress (on a range of measures) than their counterparts in medical degrees. While this suggests that law students are exposed to particularly high levels of psychological stress, the assumption that law and medicine are inherently more stressful than other academic courses — professional or general — should not remain untested. Particularly when medical graduates have almost unparalleled job security, they may not be the closest comparator for contemporary law students. Research is needed that investigates whether law students are at heightened risk of experiencing psychological distress when compared with university students studying in different types of academic programs — professional and general. The study reported here addressed that need by investigating the prevalence and severity of symptoms of psychological distress among law students and nonlaw students enrolled in diverse fields of study at both undergraduate (Bachelors) and postgraduate (Masters) levels. The analysis draws on data collected in a study of student wellbeing conducted in 2013 at The University of Melbourne, a large metropolitan university in Victoria, Australia.  As detailed below, more than 4,700 students from six faculties/schools participated in the study by completing an anonymous, online questionnaire that included the DASS-21 — a short version of the Depression, Anxiety and Stress Scales. This article reports the DASS results for the law student sample and places those results in the context of published DASS results for other law students and general population samples. The law and non-law students’ results from the study are then compared in terms of the mean DASS scores for each scale and the odds of reporting severe or extremely severe DASS scores.  
Our law students’ DASS scores support earlier research that suggests a substantial proportion of law students experience high levels of psychological distress. However, our comparative analyses indicate that, when law students’ levels of psychological distress are taken as the baseline, there are few statistically significant differences in the results of non-law student cohorts. These findings suggest that law students are not alone among university students in experiencing high levels of psychological distress. Indeed, law students may not be at highest risk among their university peers.  
The article is organised as follows. Part II reviews published research that compares the psychological distress levels of law students with those of other cohorts of university students. Part III outlines the methodology used and the participant sample in the 2013 study. Part IV reports the law students’ DASS results in relation to other law student samples, as well as normative community samples. Part V compares the DASS results of the law students and the non-law students in the 2013 study. Finally, in Part VI we discuss the implications of the reported findings for work currently being undertaken in law schools to better support student mental wellbeing. Suggestions for further research are also offered.


The Prime Minister has announced an inquiry into 'an independent parliamentary entitlements system' as a response to ongoing revelations about problematical claims by former Speaker Bronwyn Bishop.

The media release indicates that  David Tune AO PSM and  John Conde AO will co-chair a committee to "develop and propose models to deliver an independent parliamentary entitlements system", with a report in the first half of next year.
The Government believes an independent framework should be created to set and monitor parliamentary entitlements so that the system is more transparent and accountable.
The Government acknowledges that the ad hoc and piecemeal reforms adopted by successive governments mean the system is complex, ambiguous and out of step with community expectations. Rather than another series of changes that merely tinker at the edges of the system, it is time for fundamental reform aimed at inserting independence into the system that sets and monitors the use of parliamentary entitlements.
The objective will be to establish a workable system for authorising potentially contentious expenditure before it has occurred.
The committee will provide options for the creation of an independent parliamentary entitlements system. In developing options for independent oversight, the committee will consider:
  • Reducing ambiguity in what constitutes official business; 
  • Providing clarity to members of Parliament and their staff about their entitlements and how to use them appropriately; 
  • Improving transparency of the rules and entitlement usage; 
  • Acknowledging the role of party business in parliamentary business; 
  • How to deal more effectively with alleged misuse of entitlements; and 
  • How best to support and enable Members of Parliament to conduct their varied duties within clearly defined rules.
In considering this framework, the committee should also examine whether other senior officials, subject to Remuneration Tribunal determinations on salary and entitlements should also fall under a new independent system.
The committee will consider and present options to implement an independent parliamentary entitlements system.
In so doing, it will consider the operation and interaction of the current Remuneration Tribunal determinations and relevant Acts, Regulations, Ministerial determinations and Department of Finance rules and guidelines. It will give due consideration to the diverse nature of Australia’s federal constituencies and the different activities of Members and Senators.
The committee will look at international best practice across comparable parliamentary systems and will call for submissions from interested parties. This committee will be supported by a Secretariat in the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet.