THE Victorian Baillieu government has done a u-turn on suggestions it could abolish specialists courts for some of the state's most disadvantaged people.
Attorney General Robert Clark refused to guarantee in an interview with The Sunday Age that specialist courts, including the Koori courts around the states, would be retained.
Clark has previously been scathing about former Attorney General Rob Hulls' treatment of the specialist courts, and said in this month's Law Institute Journal as treating them as "Soviet-era model farms, to distract attention from failures, rather than as mainstream institutions to be make available to all".
MClark acknowledged some of the courts had shown good results, but said "they have achieved a patchwork system of justice [whereby] the way you are treated in the courts depends on where you live or where an offence is allegedly committed''.
''This is the challenge. You've got things like the drug courts operating out of Dandenong, you've got the Neighbourhood Justice Centre operating out of Collingwood. How can you ensure what's available in those areas is picked up and made available more widely?'' he said.
But the state Government today confirmed it would keep the courts for disadvantaged and indigenous Victorians, a move strongly supported by the Victorian Bar.
“We support the decision to retain the Koori Court and Drug Court, and the wider implementation of the best elements of the Neighbourhood Justice Centre,” said Mark Moshinsky SC, Victorian Bar chairman.
The Magistrates’ Koori Court now operates in eight locations. There is a Childrens’ Koori Court at two locations, and a County Koori Court.
“A major achievement of the Koori Court has been to increase Koori community participation in the justice system, by involving elders and respected persons in the sentencing process,” Moshinsky said.
“The data is limited, but the available research indicates that the Koori Court has been successful in reducing rates of re-offending,” he added.
While the available sentencing orders for offences are the same as mainstream courts, and judicial officers have the same sentencing powers, Koori Courts involve Koori elders and respected persons in the court process, giving the court a unique authority and flavour.
“These specialist courts and centres combine the implementation of the law – which is constantly evolving to serve community interests and expectations - with the most current understanding and expertise in social disadvantage and cultural context,” Moshinsky said.
“The bottom line is that we want a system that treats people fairly and reduces reoffending, and these specialist courts are showing promising outcomes in their respective areas."