This clip chosen to be G
An explanation of the physical and conceptual organisation of the Koori Court. Magistrate Ann Collins explains the informal process of reaching an outcome. Uncle Kevin Coombs speaks of his role as an Elder involved with the Koori Court.
The establishment of the Koori Court has the same outcome as the mainstream courts but, as Magistrate Ann Collins tells us, it is the process that is simplified, including less use of legal jargon. The Koori Court also relies on the presence of community Elders. According to Elder Kevin Coombs, it is this that makes the offenders feel shame or a sense of culpability. Therefore the offenders, who by this stage have already pleaded guilty to the charges, are made answerable to the Western legal system as well as their own community.
This clip explains the legal parameters, personnel and physical layout involved in sentencing in a Koori court in Victoria. Footage of broken glass and an ambulance is followed by an interview with Magistrate Ann Collins, who describes her role and elements of the court. An interview follows with Elders Aunty Frances Gallagher and Uncle Kevin Coombs, who lists the people who sit at the table and explains the role of Elders in the court. A graphic is superimposed over the courtroom table to show where each participant sits.
Educational value points
- The clip shows how the Koori court attempts, by its layout and structure, to reduce the sense of alienation from the justice system felt by Indigenous people, and to decide upon appropriate sentences for Indigenous offenders. The participants sit at a round table rather than separated and on different levels, and the proceedings have fewer formalities than other courts. A member of the offender’s family can be present but unlike similar courts the victim is not present.
- The Elders play an important role in the process of reaching a decision about what sentence or penalty will be imposed. Elders are appointed to the Koori courts to provide the magistrate with cultural advice and, by drawing on their knowledge of the offender or their family history and community, to act as mediators.
- The Koori court is an initiative of the Victorian Aboriginal Justice Agreement that aims to redress overrepresentation of Indigenous offenders in the criminal justice system through the introduction of justice-related programs and services in partnership with the Koori community. The first Koori court sat in October 2002 in Shepparton and the second six months later in Broadmeadows.
- As the clip states, the court is not able to hear cases that involve domestic violence or sexual assault and can only hear cases in which the defendant has pleaded guilty and has consented to appear in the Koori court. The decision to appear in the Koori court can be a difficult one because offenders may feel shame at speaking about their offence and having their case discussed in front of Elders or Respected persons of the court.
- An independent evaluation of Koori courts at Broadmeadows and Shepparton that showed almost halved levels of recidivism among Koori offenders appears to indicate the success of the initiative. Four new Koori courts have opened in Moe, Mildura, Bairnsdale and Warrnambool, and two children’s Koori courts now operate in Melbourne and Mildura.
- Kevin Coombs (1941–), one of the two Elders featured in the clip, was awarded an Order of Australia medal for his lifetime of service to wheelchair sports and to Aboriginal welfare. A paraplegic since childhood, he played basketball in five Paralympics and in 1984 captained the Australian Paralympic team. He has played a leading role in a range of issues of importance to Indigenous communities.
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