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Litigation in Response to COVID-19 in Australian Residential Aged Care and Immigration Detention (Australia)

Project status
Claire Loughnan
Institution web page
Host institution
University of Melbourne and University of Technology Sydney
Team members
Sara Dehm, Claire Loughnan, Linda  Steele
Project Summary

This project evaluates emerging litigation in relation to COVID-19 related deaths in Australian residential aged care centres, in terms of its capacity to address longer term structural harms of institutionalisation and activist calls for de-institutionalisation of aged care. In order to facilitate evaluation, the project compares aged care COVID-19 litigation with COVID-19 litigation strategies and outcomes in the context of an analogous confinement setting: immigration detention. The project involves critical analysis of court documents in COVID-19 litigation by reference to an interdisciplinary theoretical framework drawing on socio-legal studies, critical disability and ageing studies, and migration studies.

Outputs / Expected Outputs

An article from this project has now been published:

Dehm S, Loughnan C and Steele L (2021) COVID-19 and Sites of Confinement: Public Health, Disposable Lives and Legal Accountability in Immigration Detention and Aged Care. UNSW Law Journal 44(1).


The global COVID-19 pandemic starkly revealed the underlying structural harms and produced vulnerabilities for people living in closed congregate settings like immigration detention centres (‘IDCs’) and residential aged care facilities (‘RACFs’). This article compares the Australian legal regimes that regulate IDCs and RACFs, conceptualising both as authorising and enabling sites of control, confinement and social isolation. We argue that specific COVID-19 measures have intensified a logic of social exclusion and disposability towards people in IDCs and RACFs. Through comparing recent COVID-19 litigation, the article explores the possibilities and limitations of engaging legal strategies to achieve social reform and legal accountability within both sites of confinement. Ultimately, we suggest that such COVID-19 litigation has the greatest possibility of advancing social justice when it is embedded in a broader politics of de-incarceration and abolition oriented towards political inclusion, public health and building more equitable and just communities.  


Care setting
Intervention types

Litigation in Response to COVID-19 in Australian Residential Aged Care and Immigration Detention (Australia)