Aboriginal Sentencing Courts – Nunga Courts

A pilot in June 1999 of the special interest court became known as the ‘Nunga Court’, the regional Aboriginal name given to it by the local Aboriginal community. Australia's first Aboriginal Sentencing Court, the Nunga Court, was the initiative of Mr Chris Vass, who presided for many years on the Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara (APY) Lands and prior to working with the Courts as a Magistrate, spent many years working with the Indigenous people of Papua New Guinea.

The Nunga Court sits fortnightly at the Port Adelaide Magistrates Court, with Aboriginal Sentencing Courts operating on request at the Port Augusta Magistrates Court, and roughly 8 sittings a year at the Murray Bridge Magistrates Court. Aboriginal Community Courts at Adelaide (ACCA) and Elizabeth (ACCE) operate once a month and are available for defendants to undertake an intervention program who have mental health, behavioural problems such as substance dependence. The Aboriginal Community Court at Adelaide also allows defendants to be sentenced without undertaking a program.

Aboriginal Sentencing Courts are presided over by a Magistrate, who is assisted by Aboriginal Elders and/or Respected Persons. As they are sentencing courts, they do not hear trials or contested matters. Aboriginal Sentencing Courts provide an opportunity for Aboriginal court users to have their voice heard in a culturally appropriate manner, and family members and support persons are encouraged to attend and speak directly to the court.

To attend an Aboriginal Sentencing Court, the court user must be an Aboriginal adult, who has pleaded guilty to their offence(s). The offence(s) need to have occurred in the local Aboriginal court area.

Aboriginal Justice Officers (AJOs) provide information about the location and operation of the courts, as well as support to Aboriginal court users and their families. AJOs also provide advice to Magistrates and the court generally regarding appropriate services and programs that may assist in the court user’s rehabilitation.

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Aboriginal Sentencing Conferences – Section 22

In 2005, the Criminal Law (Sentencing) Act 1988 (the CLSA) was amended to include "Section 9C - Sentencing of Aboriginal defendants". The adaption of the Criminal Law (Sentencing) Act 1988 to the Sentencing Act 2017 includes the Aboriginal Sentencing Conferences with additions to the legislation.


SENTENCING ACT 2017 - Section 22

22 - Sentencing of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander defendant 

The Act allows any criminal court, with the defendant's consent, to convene an Aboriginal Sentencing Conference. Aboriginal Sentencing Conferences usually take place in a courtroom. Every participant has a chance to have their say around a table. Aboriginal defendants are encouraged to explain the background to their offending. Aboriginal Elders and/or Respected Persons attend and are very important participants, as they can advise the court and the defendant. Conferences also give defendants an opportunity to face victims and apologise for their actions.

Aboriginal Justice Officers provide assistance and support in convening a conference, particularly arranging for suitable Elders or Respected Persons and representatives from appropriate rehabilitation programs or support agencies, whilst also making contact with a defendant’s family to explain the conference process so they too can have a say in court.

Aboriginal Sentencing Conferences enable participants to share information in a more culturally appropriate forum, which the Judge or Magistrate can consider when sentencing.


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