Ruth Barson - Legal Director


Ruth Barson joined the Human Rights Law Centre in 2014 and leads a team of lawyers advocating for the rights of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, economic justice and a fair and equal criminal legal system.

Ruth’s recent work includes coordinating High Court challenges to excessive police lock-up powers and Supreme Court challenges to unfair imprisonment and detention laws. Ruth has also led the Centre’s advocacy in relation to youth justice; deaths in custody; inhuman conditions in prisons; and racial inequality in the criminal legal system.

Ruth previously worked at the Centre for Innovative Justice where she delivered a ground-breaking report on reforming legal responses to sexual assault through restorative justice approaches. Prior to this, Ruth spent over four years working with the Aboriginal Legal Services in Western Australia and in the Northern Territory where she focused on youth justice and prisoner rights. She has also worked as a criminal defence lawyer with Victoria Legal Aid and as a legal advisor to government.

Ruth’s international experience includes working with the Supreme Court Chamber of the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia – the United Nations court responsible for prosecuting senior members of the Khmer Rouge. She has consulted to Open Society Foundations on strategies to reduce the risk of torture and mistreatment in police custody and received a scholarship to attend Open Society Foundations’ Strategic Human Rights Litigation course. In 2018, Ruth was awarded the Ian Potter Foundation’s international study grant to travel to the US to learn from leading academics and organisations tackling mass-imprisonment.

Ruth has a Masters of Laws (with a focus on criminology) from the University of Sydney and a Masters of International Human Rights Law from the University of Oxford. She is on the board of the Women’s Legal Service Victoria and is a member of the Law Council of Australia’s Human Rights Committee.



Three ways we can halt the explosion in prisoner numbers
The Age July 6 2019

When justice is hijacked, we all lose
The Age December 4 2018

The dignity of people behind bars should never be negotiable                                                          The Sydney Morning Herald December 17 2017

Royal commission findings on youth detention will be national moment of reckoning                    The Sydney Morning Herald November 11 2017

The real crisis facing Victoria's youth justice system
The Sydney Morning Herald December 31 2016

The brutal images that have defined 2016 for Indigenous Australia
The Sydney Morning Herald December 22 2016

We now have a Premier who makes no apologies for disregarding the human rights of children
The Age December 6 2016

The youth justice system is a slippery slope of failure
The Sydney Morning Herald July 26 2016

Ms Dhu's death in custody: The shocking footage that Australia needs to see
The Sydney Morning Herald September 26 2016

We’ve been silent on injustice for too long
The Canberra Times May 25 2016

Western Australians should not tolerate injustice
The West Australian April 29 2016

Holocaust remembrance teaches lessons for humanity
The Sydney Morning Herald January 19 2016

Ms Dhu inquest: Western Australia must come to terms with some hard truths
The Sydney Morning Herald December 3 2015

Reining in the NT's paperless arrests is progress towards Indigenous liberty
The Guardian November 12 2015

Australian prisons need to improve to measure up to the UN's Mandela Rule
The Sydney Morning Herald October 29 2015

Justice targets needed to reduce indigenous disadvantage
The Canberra Times December 3 2014

Aboriginal deaths in custody must end
The Australian November 3 2014