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Intergenerational disadvantage focus of ACT sentencing pilot
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Intergenerational disadvantage focus of ACT sentencing pilot

Scales of Justice

The ACT government has announced that specialised pre-sentence reports will be trialled for ATSIL people caught in the criminal justice system.

Offenders sentenced in the ACT will be the first to participate in a specialised sentencing program to be trialled by the court, according to The Canberra Times.

Modelled after a similar program in Canada called the Gladue reports, the pre-sentencing reports acknowledge intergenerational disadvantage as a factor that may lead to offending.

In Canada, special caseworkers are assigned to prepare the documents, providing the court with a report that includes recommendations for an appropriate sentence. As part of the process, relevant information about an offender’s personal background is provided, including any dealings they may have with child protective services; or any history concerning medical issues, abuse or substance abuse.  

ANU legal academic and barrister Dr Anthony Hopkins told The Canberra Times that the reports are not intended to give any kind of discount to a certain kind of offender. Rather, the content of the pre-sentencing report will have the courts pay particular attention to the experience of Indigenous Australians, he said.

“The premise is that we know that too many Indigenous Australians experience lives of disadvantage, systemic discrimination and intergenerational trauma leading to their offending, but we don’t have that story told in court,” Dr Hopkins said.

“If it was, it would inform questions of culpability and inform options for rehabilitation, reform and healing.

“Intergenerational trauma exists in a very real way.”

“They are not expert reports, they should be seen as truth reports," Dr Hopkins said.

“These reports should not be seen as simply telling stories of disadvantage. There is enormous strength within the Indigenous community, borne out of a shared history of survival, pride and connection to culture and country. These stories of resilience also need to be told and understood, and their potential realised.”

The territory’s Legal Aid Commission was asked by the government to consider how a similar initiative might be introduced for local sentencing court. Legal Aid ACT finalised its report earlier this year, and is currently developing a way for the system to be piloted.

ACT Attorney-General Gordon Ramsay said that the courts were in a better position to make their sentencing for ATSIL offenders fairer and culturally appropriate.

“I look forward to receiving recommendations for law reform that come out of Legal Aid ACT’s work on this topic,” Mr Ramsay said.

The ACT’s pre-sentencing reports will be more detailed and comprehensive than those similar reports that exist in Queensland, for offenders with an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander (ATSIL) background appearing before the state’s Murri Courts.

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