Re-Storying Precedent: Indigenous Legal Narratives
Janelle Koh
Fremantle Library, Walyalup Civic Centre
Saturday June 4, 10am–4pm

Law may be thought of as made up of the stories that we tell about the law, and the stories the law tells about itself. This course will constitute a critical retelling of the legal story of precedent, in the context of law and Indigenous peoples. Precedent is a story of law’s authority, of how it is established and maintained, both generally and in particular cases. This course will consider both official and unofficial narratives of precedent, including Indigenous legal narratives, and query the impacts of stories told and untold upon the past and the future of the common law.

We will look at Ronald Dworkin’s “chain novel” theory, which has been highly influential in conceiving of our modern-day understanding of legal precedent, as well as the landmark decision of Mabo v Queensland (No 2) in considering how official (and settler) narratives of precedent can impose real and painful limits upon the lives of Indigenous peoples. We will also query the possibilities of settler law in acknowledging the lived experiences of Indigenous peoples, and consider the work of Canadian Indigenous legal scholar John Borrows, to ask what role Indigenous legal narratives might have in shaping the imaginary/future of the common law.

Plan of the town of Bowen (1861).

Instructor biography
Janelle Koh (she/they) is a lawyer, writer, and editor located in Boorloo (Perth). She graduated with a Juris Doctor from the University of Melbourne in 2019, and was previously the Managing Editor of Right Now, a human rights journal based in Naarm (Melbourne). She has written extensively in both legal and non-legal capacities, and has had short fiction, non-fiction, poetry and criticism published and forthcoming in publications such as Pencilled In, Red Pocket Press, Right Now, Limina Journal and the Australian Journal of Family Law. She was previously a Legal Associate at the Family Court of Western Australia, and is currently a Solicitor at Carr & Co Divorce and Family Lawyers.

Her legal research has focused on the jurisprudence of narrative as informed by feminist jurisprudence, critical race theory and Indigenous legal traditions, and the craft of legal storytelling—how and why we tell legal stories, what those stories mean for the progression or cultivation of the law, and what implications they have for persons whose lives are lived (inextricably, tenuously, painfully) with law.