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Specialist Courts for Sentencing Aboriginal Offenders
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Specialist Courts for Sentencing Aboriginal Offenders

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Published 2016
Cecelia O’Loughlin (a Narungga woman from Point Pearce, South Australia) Community Justice: You have a voice, let it be heard 2003 oil on canvas Purchased collection of the Courts Administration Authority, Adelaide, 2003 © Courts Administration Authority ______________________________________________________ The specialist Aboriginal Court is one of the most important and controversial measures introduced in recent decades to address the disadvantage and particular needs of Aboriginal people in the criminal courts of Australia. This book offers a comprehensive analysis of Aboriginal Courts and their relationship to the criminal justice system. The Aboriginal Court is examined from practical and theoretical perspectives: the rationale for a specialist court for Aboriginal people, its aims, how they work, what they achieve and its critics. It describes the differing models of Aboriginal Courts in each jurisdiction, identifying their common features whilst emphasising their diverse and fundamentally localised nature. The analysis of what Aboriginal Courts achieve is introduced with a summary of current research on a range of outcomes: Aboriginal community participation, better sentencing information and attendance and recidivism rates. The book’s central theme is that Aboriginal Court sentencing provides a simple and direct way for Aboriginal people to be heard and understood in a manner rarely achieved by a mainstream magistrates court in a busy list. This unique approach empowers and involves Aboriginal people in the court process, reducing barriers of language, culture and social disadvantage whilst better informing the sentencing court on the often complex needs of Aboriginal offenders, victims and their communities. Specialist Courts for Sentencing Aboriginal Offenders draws on current literature, academic and government research and the author’s experience as a lawyer and magistrate in Aboriginal, specialist and mainstream criminal courts to explore how Aboriginal Courts have developed, their significance and to propose their more widespread use. “Paul Bennett’s work will be highly valued, particularly by professionals involved in the criminal justice system. He has done us all a commendable service by comprehensively bringing together and objectively assessing the available material on Aboriginal Courts.” From the Foreword by Justice Jenny Blokland of the Northern Territory Supreme Court CONTENTS Foreword by Justice Jenny Blokland About the Author Acknowledgments 1. Introduction 2. How Aboriginal Courts Work 3. The Roles of the Participants 4. The Decision-making Process 5. What Do Aboriginal Courts Achieve? 6. Theory and Critiques 7. Conclusion Glossary Appendix: Table of Aboriginal Courts – 31 July 2015 Bibliography Index REVIEWS This text (“Specialist Courts”) is a succinct, informative and offers a great insight into these little-known specialist courts within the Australian legal system. Such courts have had a relatively short history in that the first Aboriginal Court commenced only in 1999 in South Australia. The book highlights the often difficult paths these courts have had to tread and the obstacles they have faced. In Queensland, they were abolished in recent years, but have now fortunately been resuscitated, and again form part of our legal structure. … In this reviewer’s opinion, Specialist Courts is a must for every lawyer practising in crime and would be a very useful text for students, not just of law, but of a number of disciplines as it highlights some of the issues that face Aboriginal Australians. Read full review... James McNab, Hearsay, May, 79 Over 50 Aboriginal sentencing courts have opened around Australia since their nascence in the late 1990s, and they have a foothold in most Australian states and territories. Yet as we mark the 25th anniversary of the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody, Aboriginal incarceration rates continue to soar and there is a sense that the current approaches are not achieving what they set out to do, namely, reduce incarceration rates. Prominent criminologists have doubted the capacity of Aboriginal sentencing courts to combat reoffending, and such courts have been abolished in the Northern Territory and Queensland (although the current Queensland Labor government is committed to their reintroduction). It is against this background that one must read Paul Bennett’s recent book, Specialist Courts for Sentencing Aboriginal Offenders: Aboriginal Courts in Australia. Bennett has, in a sense, set himself the task of making the case for the continued operation and expansion of these courts. He fulfils his brief admirably, crafting a book that is part history, part compendious literature review and part observational study. … The book should be read not just by lawyers, social workers, interpreters, researchers and other practitioners working or interested in this field; it should be read and heeded by policy-makers and politicians. Read full review... Julian R Murphy, Indigenous Law Bulletin, July/August 2016 … Bennett’s work provides a complete collation of available literature, this text is a useful source for those working in or interested in the justice field. The text’s scope is extensive in over‐viewing all aspects of the courts’ purpose, structure and aims. Most importantly, it evidences how the courts have achieved their key aims. In this discussion, Bennett emphasises that aims such as improved and diverse sentencing practices, increased court attendances, and Indigenous participation and empowerment should not be overshadowed by reduced recidivism rates, as these are equally important. Overall, Bennett has provided a comprehensive overview and analysis of Australia’s Indigenous sentencing courts. … he has done well to highlight the importance of these courts in addressing Indigenous disadvantage and rebuilding trust between Indigenous communities and the criminal justice system. Despite noting inconclusive effects on recidivism rates, Bennett makes a good case for the expansion of these courts, citing increased attendance rates, heightened participation by Indigenous people in the court process, and the collection of diverse data to improve justice practices. This text should not only be read by justice and welfare professionals but also by policy writers and politicians. Further, due to its synthesis of information and accessible writing style, this book would also make an excellent text for law, justice and social work students. Read full review...
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