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Court system changes improve Indigenous justice outcomes

Media Release

10 August 2004

Indigenous courts have rapidly transformed Australia's Indigenous justice system, which is now better able to address the over-representation of Indigenous people in the criminal justice system.

Indigenous courts and justice practices in Australia, a report from the Australian Institute of Criminology, outlines how Indigenous courts had succeeded in changing the way justice is carried out.

In releasing the report today Dr Toni Makkai, AIC Director said "Indigenous courts are able to change judicial and legal attitudes with the aim of reducing the level of incarceration of Indigenous people".

Indigenous courts in urban, rural and remote areas can empower Indigenous elders and other community members and change the attitudes of offenders.

The court's work is not about processing a case or finalising a file, but rather learning more about the offender and the offence, and working to develop an appropriate response.

Through this system, Indigenous people, organisations, elders, family and kin group members are encouraged to participate in the sentencing process and give officials insights into the offence, the character of victim-offender relations, and the offender's readiness to change.

"In this way, greater attention to the reasons and context related to the offending behaviour, coupled with the involvement of Indigenous justice workers, give the urban court experience more meaning and make it less alienating", Dr Makkai said.

In remote Indigenous communities, courts are conducted by judicial officers who travel on circuit.

For example, in Western Australia a Circle Court was recently established in Yandeyarra and includes the involvement of community elders in the sentencing options for offenders.

Circle sentencing is also used in New South Wales. In Far North Queensland, magistrates and judges rely on Justice Groups' oral and written submissions when sentencing the offender.

Indigenous courts established in urban areas include the Nunga and Aboriginal Courts in South Australia, the Koori Courts in Victoria, the Murri and Rockhampton Courts in Queensland, and Circle Sentencing in New South Wales.