Judge Paul Grant shared both the challenges and successes of the County Koori Court in a recent speech to an event hosted by the International Commission of Jurists.
“Aboriginal Australians make up 2.5 per cent of the population, yet comprise 28 per cent of the prison population,” Judge Grant highlighted.
“The disadvantage suffered by Aboriginal Australians is considerable - Aboriginal people suffer more ill health than non-Aboriginal Australians; die at much younger ages; have higher rates of infant mortality; are over represented in the child protection system; have lower levels of educational attainment and income; have higher rates of unemployment and poorer housing conditions.”
Judge Grant reflected that over twenty-five years ago, the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody found that Aboriginal over-representation in the criminal justice system was largely attributable to social, economic and cultural disadvantage and also bias in the operation of that system.
“To successfully address the over representation we needed to address the underlying issues that were driving it and, at the same time, reform specific programs and practices in the justice system,” Judge Grant said.
The Latrobe Valley County Koori Court was launched in 2008, and will celebrate its tenth anniversary later this year.
The County Koori Court now also sits in Melbourne and Mildura. The court is working on the establishment of a Shepparton Koori Court later this year.
Judge Grant said at the event that “the expansion of the Koori Court throughout the state and across jurisdictions is testament to its support within Koori communities. Indeed, it is those communities that have driven the expansion.”
In discussing the impact of the Koori Court, Judge Grant explained that a common theme from the evaluations of each Court is how successful the Court has been in meeting the objective of increasing Aboriginal community participation in the justice system.
“In 2002 there were very few - if any - Aboriginal people working in Victorian courts, and there are now more than 100 Elders and Respected Persons participating in Koori Courts throughout Victoria,” Judge Grant said.
“In addition, Aboriginal men and women are employed as Koori Court officers or in other roles within courts and Courts Services Victoria.
“This has been an incredibly positive development for communities and for courts.”
Visit the County Koori Court page to find out more.
Head to the Mock Koori Court event at Courts Open Day to see a session in actions.