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Speech: Magistrates Court (Nunga Court) Amendment Bill

The Hon. T.A. FRANKS (16:41): I rise today to speak in support of the Magistrates Court (Nunga Court) Amendment Bill 2022. This bill legislates a formal place for Nunga Courts in our judicial system, created as a result of the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody. These courts have formed an important part of our legal system for Aboriginal people in this state since their formation in 1999.

The work of Magistrate Chris Vass must be noted. Through his consultation with Aboriginal community groups, the Aboriginal Legal Rights Movement, police and government, he initiated Aboriginal court days, where Aboriginal people who had pled guilty could have their matter heard in a court that was more culturally appropriate and the family and community of the accused were asked to actively participate.

The Nunga Court, from early in its formation, has been effective in increasing the participation of Aboriginal defendants in the court process. In the general Magistrates Court, the participation rate for Aboriginal defendants was around 50 per cent, whereas it was closer to 80 per cent for the Nunga Court. These are small changes, but these changes do have a big impact on participants. Everyone, including the magistrate, sits at the same level. An Aboriginal elder is seated next to the magistrate and is able to offer cultural advice on particular issues.

Importantly, family and community participation is encouraged and can help to have a lasting effect on the defendant, helping to give weight to the promises and assurances that they make during this process. We also know that defendants who go through the Nunga Court process compared to those who go through the general Magistrates Court process are less likely to receive penalties that lead to imprisonment, either directly or indirectly.

The Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody made clear that imprisonment should be the last resort. Nunga Courts have been shown to impose fewer fines and fewer losses of driver's licences, both of which have been called an 'indirect route to imprisonment for Indigenous people'. Keeping people out of prison, those who do not need to be there, is a benefit not only to that individual but to their community more broadly.

I would like to point out that this bill does not include the provision of interpreters. The Law Society's submission has advised that, for the purposes of procedural fairness, the bill should ensure that interpreters are available, if appropriate. This is not a new idea. The availability of interpreters to enhance the effectiveness and participation in the Nunga Courts is a point that has been made before.

The Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody specifically recommended that interpreters should be available in locations where many Aboriginal people appeared before the court. Surely, the Nunga Court meets that description. There is an over-representation of Aboriginal people in our justice system, a system that is not designed to be culturally sensitive and not designed to consider the input from those within the most affected communities.

Nunga Courts are by no means the definitive answer to the myriad issues faced by Aboriginal people entering our justice system, but this does offer a more accessible form of justice. It brings compassion to an otherwise unpleasant and alienating process. It means that justice is not 'just us', as many Aboriginal people have said to me. With that, I commend the bill.


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