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Indigenous Courts and Justice Practices in Australia

Daly, Kathleen
June 4, 2015

Source: (2004) Canberra ACT: Australian Institute of Criminology.

Indigenous populations in Australia have been informally contributing to sentencing procedures throughout remote communities for some time. During the late 1990’s, Indigenous participation in justice processes became formalized with the development of Indigenous sentencing and Circle Courts. Related justice practices include the setting aside of certain days in urban courts to sentence Indigenous offenders and the practice of judicial officials traveling on circuit to deal with cases in remote Indigenous communities. Judicial officials who travel on circuit to remote Indigenous communities incorporate the views of the elders or respected members of the local community into their justice practices. The authors review the emergence of Indigenous justice practices, which were necessitated by the relatively large number of Indigenous offenders and the need to establish partnerships between state governments and Aboriginal communities. Jurisdictions vary in their approaches to this liaison between state officials and Aboriginal representatives and are particular to the concerns of the populations of the areas. The similarities in Indigenous justice between jurisdictions include the requirement of an Indigenous offender; cases are usually heard in Magistrates’ Court; and the offense must have occurred in the geographical region under the courts jurisdiction. An important component of Indigenous justice is the presence of Indigenous court workers whose roles and duties vary by jurisdiction. A comparison of two jurisdictions, the New South Wales Circle Sentencing Court and the South Australian Nunga Court, is offered to illustrate differences of approach. Thus, the incorporation of Indigenous justice practices has resulted in a transformation of the Australian justice system involving communication between judicial officers, Aboriginal representatives, and Aboriginal offenders. Abstract courtesy of National Criminal Justice Reference Service,


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