Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander justice initiatives
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders appear more often in court and are put in prison at higher rates than other Australians. They are also more likely to be victims of crime.
We want to reduce the numbers of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in the criminal justice system. We also want to make the justice system more culturally appropriate.
We have started a number of programs to help achieve this.
Community Justice Groups
Community Justice Groups (CJGs) consist of community members who come together voluntarily with the aim of reducing crime and social problems in their communities.
CJGs hope that by working together with the government the number of Indigenous people in the criminal justice system can be reduced.
We give funding to 49 CJGs in all parts of Queensland. CJGs help both victims and offenders at all stages of the legal process.
Murri Court links Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander defendants to cultural and support services to help them make changes in their lives and stop offending.
Elders or Respected Persons from the community are in the courtroom to guide and encourage defendants, and help magistrates understand more about defendants’ personal and cultural circumstances.
Murri Court is less formal than mainstream courts but it’s not a soft option. Defendants are expected to work hard to make better choices.
Murri courts are located in the magistrates and childrens courts in:
- Mount Isa
- St George
Not all locations have both an adult and youth Murri court.
Mornington Island Restorative Justice Project
The Mornington Island Restorative Justice project started in 2008. It is a working partnership with Indigenous families to provide a peacemaking service for their community.
This service resolves disputes in a way that respects local culture. At the same time it is also accepted by the formal justice system. Since 2011 the service has been run by the Junkuri Laka Justice Association.
A formal independent evaluation was completed in June 2014. The report will be published in 2015. Interim reports have been very positive with 91% of participants saying that they felt safer because mediation is happening on Mornington Island. Involving Elders as co-mediators has been very important for the project’s success.
It was anticipated that if the Mornington Island project was successful, it could become a model for other Indigenous communities in Queensland. It would allow Indigenous communities to resolve many disputes before they reach the courts.
Remote Justices of the Peace Magistrates Court Program
The Queensland Government began the Remote JP Magistrates Court Program in 1993. It was part of its response to the recommendations of the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody 1991.
This program aims to make the criminal justice system more culturally appropriate for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. It allows Indigenous people to hold positive roles in the criminal justice system in their community by:
- identifying negative interactions that Indigenous communities have with the justice system and finding ways to improve those interactions
- dealing with local matters more quickly
- using culturally appropriate practices with local knowledge and respect
- enabling communities to decide local solutions to offending within their community
- using language and processes that are easily understood by defendants.
Under the program, Remote JP Magistrates can form a Magistrates Court. They can hear and determine outcomes and sentence community offenders if the defendant pleads guilty.
The Remote JP Magistrates Court commonly hear the following matters:
- offences against local laws
- summary offences (such as minor liquor offences, offensive language or trespassing)
- bail applications
- hear applications for temporary protection orders
- grant adjournments.
There are over 200 Remote JP Magistrates in Queensland. The Remote JP Magistrates Court is active, or operates if needed, in the following communities:
- Lockhart River
- Mornington Island.
For more information please email RemoteJPMags@justice.qld.gov.au or contact the training officer.