Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander readers are advised this article uses the name and images of the late Mr Hampson with the permission of his family.

When Dunghutti man Ricky Hampson Senior lost his 36-year-old son through alleged malpractice, he didn’t know where to start his quest for justice. 

Key points:

  • Ricky “Dougie” Hampson Jnr’s family had a difficult time finding a legal service after his death
  • Government-funded legal aid is unable to properly support everyone who needs it
  • The cost of living is creating a “justice gap” for a large number of Australians

In August 2021 Ricky “Dougie” Hampson Junior had been suffering from severe stomach pain and a highly elevated heart rate when he presented to Dubbo Base Hospital.

The Kamilaroi/Dunghutti man was held at the hospital for 19 hours, but according to his family the “popping” and “tearing” pain he complained of in his stomach was dismissed as being “drug related” and he was not given a scan or X-ray.

Hours after the 36-year-old was discharged he died from perforated stomach ulcers.

Dougie Hampson Jnr was 36 years old when he died in August 2021.(Supplied: Ricky Hampson Snr)

“They judged him for being a blackfella,” Mr Hampson Snr said of his late son.

“He told them something had ‘popped’ in his abdomen [but] he was held for 19 hours without scans. [He was] found unresponsive the next morning.”

Still grieving their son, the family began the long journey of seeking justice.

“We started with phone calls, emails, asking questions and trying to get an idea of what happened,” Mr Hampson Snr said.

“We started that fight to hold people to account and try to get justice for him.”

But when they approached government-funded legal aid for help, support was not forthcoming.

“It was [difficult] in the beginning. Like I said, you just threw around a lot of emails, phone calls, things like that,” Mr Hampson Snr said.

“You’d always leave messages with different agencies, legal aid, and this, that, and the other. And half the time they don’t want to get back to you.”

Poorly funded legal aid cause for adversity

The Hampson’s family situation is not unique, according to Law Council president Luke Murphy who said the already-strained sector had been under increased stress due to the cost of living crisis.

“When people can’t receive legal aid it often leads to adverse outcomes of a health nature or of a financial nature,” he said. 

The family of Dougie Hampson Jr are calling for an investigation into Dubbo Base Hospital after his death.(ABC Western Plains: Madeline Austin)

Mr Murphy said the current, poorly funded system was unable to properly support everyone who needed it, creating a “justice gap” for a large number of Australians.

“We aren’t talking the lower socio-economic demographic, we are talking about a significant proportion of Australia’s middle class who are unable to access legal services,” he said.

“Legal assistance providers indicated those who are refused a grant on the basis of means also cannot afford to engage a private lawyer. There is a justice gap.

“The size of the community who currently benefits from legal aid grants is minute, only 8 per cent of Australians. What it creates is what we call ‘the missing middle’.” 

Priced out of the justice market 

Community Justice Centres South Australia chief executive Cathy McMorrine said economic stress was increasingly a factor in their decision making.

“One of the things we’ve really had to look at is how someone’s income is not necessarily indicative of what resources they have — especially at the moment,” she said.

“Someone with a modest income — with three or four children, a mortgage, utilities bills, food, everything — what they would have been left with each fortnight has definitely shifted.”

A tattoo bearing the likeness of the deceased Dougie Hampson Jr.(Supplied: Ricky Hampson Snr)

Ms McMorrine said community justice centres had a similar process to legal aid.

“We’ll look at someone’s income, their assets, and what other factors into their circumstances,” she said.

“Our role is to work with that and pick up as best we can. But we’re looking at our own eligibility in terms of who can access our ongoing assistance. 

“With mortgages going up by hundreds [of dollars] that’s something for us to consider when we’re assessing eligibility.”

Legal Services Commission acting chief officer David Mazzone said a Commonwealth review into the National Legal Assistance Partnership Agreement would determine the extent of changes which could be made in the long term.

“That agreement is set to expire in June 30, 2025, and so the Commonwealth and state attorney-generals have appointed an independent reviewer.

“The review will be a holistic assessment of legal need in terms of the funding for this sector and a particular focus of the review will be unmet legal need in regional areas.

‘You need to fight for justice’

Fortunately for the Hampsons, after so many dead ends in their search for legal representation the firm they eventually found to help them said they had grounds for a coronial inquest into their son’s death.

Dougie Hampson Jr’s family has campaigned for an inquest into his death.(Supplied: Ricky Hampson Snr)

Mr Hampson Snr said it would have been impossible to get legal support without the human rights law firm, National Justice Project. 

“You need to fight for justice because they won’t come to your door saying ‘we went wrong here’,” he said.

“You need to stand up and fight to get that justice.” 

The coronial inquest into Mr Hampson Jnr’s death has been set for February 26 next year before the Coroners Court of New South Wales.


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