Queensland’s Magistrates Courts have implemented a plan designed to reduce the overrepresentation of First Nations people in the state’s criminal justice system,
The State Government yesterday announced the Magistrates Court of Queensland had embraced and set in motion its new 2022-25 Reconciliation Action Plan (RAP) containing 17 actions and 86 deliverables to further promote and embed reconciliation in the lower court’s jurisdiction.
The Magistrates Court RAP promotes the courts’ commitment to the five pillars of reconciliation – unity, race relations, equality and equity, institutional integrity and historical acceptance.
Attorney-General and Minister for Justice Shannon Fentiman said today that the new RAP provided greater opportunities to work alongside and with First Nations people to develop culturally appropriate initiatives within courts aimed at reducing their contact with the criminal justice system.
“We’ve all heard the alarming statistics about the overrepresentation of First Nations people in our criminal justice system,” Ms Fentiman said. “Despite representing 4.6% of Queenslanders, last year just more than 19% of defendants who appeared before Magistrates Courts identified as Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander.
“Almost half of all defendants appearing in the Childrens Court and 15% of aggrieved parties in applications for a domestic violence order last financial year identified as Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander.
“The Magistrates Court’s new RAP sets out meaningful actions and practical steps to be undertaken to address barriers that exist for First Nations peoples who come into contact with the courts.
“It details a commitment not only to improve justice services and access to those services for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, but also to provide opportunities and support for Indigenous staff.”
Ms Fentiman said the plan built on the work of the previous strategy and progress of the Government to improve relationships, justice experiences and outcomes by developing innovative and tangible initiatives on the journey of reconciliation.
“Our Government is committed to a new way of working with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Queenslanders, which is evident through our whole-of-government Reconciliation Action Plan and our work to date on a Path to Treaty in this State,” she said.
She said the Government had already made significant commitments to First Nations people in the criminal justice system by re-introducing the Murri Courts and providing increased funding for Community Justice Groups which did important work in First Nations communities to improve justice outcomes.
“And as part of our Government’s response to the Women’s Safety and Justice Taskforce’s first report, ‘Hear her voice’, we will be working in partnership with First Nations peoples to co-design a specific whole-of-government and community strategy to address the overrepresentation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in Queensland’s criminal justice system,” Ms Fentiman said.
“This includes working with First Nations communities to design specific perpetrator interventions and look at solutions to reduce the disproportionate rate of First Nations women as victims of domestic and family violence as well as accused persons.
“To undertake this important work, we will also establish the Office of the Chief First Nations Justice Officer.
“I want to acknowledge the leadership that the Magistrates Court of Queensland has shown on this issue, having officially been on the reconciliation journey since 2018 when it launched its first action plan.”
Murri Courts now operate in 15 locations around the state and involve Elders and Respected Persons from the local community, providing an opportunity for defendants to participate in a court process which respects and acknowledges culture.
Murri Courts were founded in Queensland in 2006 as a response to the increasing representation of Indigenous people in prison. They were temporarily closed by the LNP Government in December 2012, but reinstated when the Labor Government was returned to office in April 2016.
Murri Court in Queensland were established to:
- encourage members of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community to participate in the Murri Court process
- deliver a culturally appropriate court process that respects and acknowledges Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures
- refer defendants to support services that address the underlying contributors to their offending
- give magistrates detailed information about defendants’ personal and cultural circumstances.
A 2019 evaluation of the Murri Courts found the program had widespread respect from the community and was providing a culturally-informed specialist court response.
“Our Community Justice Groups support these Murri Courts as well as Magistrates Courts across Queensland, making cultural submissions, identifying culturally appropriate support and treatment programs and providing support to defendants as they progress through the justice system,” Ms Fentiman said.
Read the Magistrates Court RAP.