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Koori Court

In Victoria, the Koori court is a separate division of the Magistrates CourtCounty Court and Children’s Court, which exists to provide more inclusive and culturally appropriate sentencing outcomes to Aboriginal defendants. Koori Court hearings involve Koori Elders, Respected Persons, the Court Officer and the defendants’ families. The court seeks to impose orders that are culturally appropriate and to help the indigenous defendants to address the causes of their offending. The Koori Court was established as a division of the Magistrates Court in 1989. A Koori division of the Children’s Court was established in 2005 and of the Country Court in 2008.

Who can use the Koori Court?

The Koori Court is for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander defendants in criminal matters who plead guilty. For it to deal with a matter, the offender must:

  • have shown they are willing to take responsibility for their offending;
  • live within, or have been charged with offences within, its geographical boundary area; and
  • consent to being dealt with by the Koori Court.

The Koori Court does not deal with family violence or sexual offences.

How is the Koori Court different?

Magistrates and judges who decide matters in the Koori Court act on the advice of Aboriginal Elders and Respected Persons on cultural issues relating to the offender and the offending. The inclusion of these voices is intended to send a clear message to the defendant that the Koori community, as well as the mainstream community, disapproves of their actions. The Elders and Respected Persons can also explain kinship relationships and other cultural issues to the court and provide insight on how particular kinds of offending have affected the Aboriginal community. 

As in the mainstream court, the ultimate decision about the sentence rests with the magistrate or judge.

The Koori Court is less formal than other courts. The proceedings are conducted in plain English and the defendant is allowed to speak for themself. The court aims to make it easier for Koori defendants to engage in a meaningful way with the system and to reduce their offending behaviour.

What sentencing options are available?

The Koori Court retains all the sentencing options available to conventional court hearings, including sending the offender to prison. Its goal is to structure sentences that are more culturally appropriate to Aboriginal offenders and in so doing reduce their chance of re-offending and increase their positive engagement in the justice system.

The Children’s Court

The Koori division of the Children’s Court has succeeded in engaging Koori youth who have limited support and are disconnected from their community. The involvement of Aboriginal Elders in the court has been reported to make young Koori people and their families feel more comfortable talking about issues that they ordinarily would not.

The Children’s Koori Court aims to reduce the over-representation of Koori youth in the Victorian juvenile justice system and increase Aboriginal ownership of the administration of justice.

A 2010 study found that its hearings:

  • involved more engagement between the young person and the decision-maker than other hearings;
  • were very supportive of the young person and validated them (but not their offending);
  • explained the sentence clearly to the young person;
  • were less formal than mainstream Children’s Court hearings.

However it was not possible to evaluate how successful the court has been in reducing recidivism given its relative newness and the small proportion of young offenders it deals with.

If you require legal advice or representation in a criminal matter or in any other legal matter, please contact Armstrong Legal. 

Fernanda Dahlstrom

This article was written by Fernanda Dahlstrom

Fernanda Dahlstrom has a Bachelor of Laws, a Bachelor of Arts and a Graduate Diploma in Legal Practice. She has also completed a Master’s in Writing and Literature. Fernanda practised law for eight years, working in criminal defence, child protection and domestic violence law in the Northern Territory and in family law in Queensland.

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