The Aboriginal Community Court provides a culturally appropriate forum for Aboriginal defendants to undertake an intervention program. The courts promote an alternative to detention for Aboriginal defendants with mental health and behavioural problems such as substance dependence.
A panel of Elders and/or Respected Community Members sits with the Magistrate at the bench to provide the link with culture for the defendants and to assist the Magistrate to understand the cultural background and family circumstances of each defendant. They also encourage defendants to take responsibility for making changes in their lives and acknowledge and support the changes.
An Aboriginal Community Court sits once a month at the Elizabeth Magistrates Court (ACCE) and once a month at the Adelaide Magistrates Court (ACCA). A Senior Case Manager and an Aboriginal Justice Officer is assigned to work in each court.
The Nunga Court at Port Adelaide Magistrates Court is the first culturally appropriate court for Aboriginal defendants in Australia and is the inspiration for the Aboriginal Community Court. The Nunga Court operates as a sentencing court but defendants are also encouraged and supported to access services but they do not necessarily undertake an intervention program.
Participation in an intervention program is mandatory at the Aboriginal Community Court at Elizabeth. Sentencing is delayed for six months while defendants engage in treatment.
Defendants meet with a Senior Case Manager to discuss their mental health and /or behavioural problems and a treatment plan is developed. People are encouraged to access services provided by indigenous organisations, such as Aboriginal Sobriety Group, Nunkuwarrin Yunti Health Service and Kirna Winmil Yunti (KWY) and are supported by the Senior Case Manager.
People can also choose to engage in general services if they prefer. The defendant’s progress is reviewed by the court once a month, and they receive support and encouragement to maintain changes, from the respected members of the Aboriginal community, the Magistrate, the Senior Case Manager and both the police prosecutor and their lawyer.
After approximately six months, the defendant is sentenced and the progress they made in making positive changes in their lives is considered by the Magistrate when determining the sentence. Cultural and community issues raised by the Respected Community Members are also considered by the Magistrate.
An Aboriginal Justice Officer also assists the court and provides information to the defendant and his/her family about bail and fines payment and coordinates the roster for the respected community members.
- Be facing criminal charges that can be finalised in the Magistrates Court.
- Plead guilty to the charges.
- Be recognised as being of Aboriginal descent, by the respected Aboriginal community members who sit on the court.
- There are no geographic restrictions on referrals to the Aboriginal Community Court at Adelaide, but to be referred to the Aboriginal Community Court at Elizabeth, the person must live in the northern suburbs of Adelaide.