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Australia's first Koori County Court has been launched in Victoria. The court will sit regularly in Melbourne from July, following a successful four year pilot in the Latrobe Valley.
The Koori County Court provides an informal setting for the mitigated plea hearings of Indigenous defendants who choose to go through it. It allows greater input from the Aboriginal community, particularly the elders. It is hoped the model will play a dramatic role in reducing recidivism and engaging the Indigenous community.
County Court Judge, John Smallwood said ‘The law's exactly the same, there's no customary law or traditional punishments. The County Koori Court is designed to create a prospect of rehabilitation when, on the face of it, there's none. It appears to be, because of the elders, far more effective than I'd hoped.'
He said the elders helped offenders to reconnect with family members, important for rehabilitation, but had no input in sentencing.
The Melbourne launch comes despite earlier fears that the Koori Court would not be funded beyond the Latrobe Valley pilot. An independent report into the court in 2011 found a significantly lower re-offending rate and a higher rate of compliance with orders.
‘I think the fundamental aspect of it is that they are determined not to let down or disappoint the elders,' Judge Smallwood said. Aboriginal offenders whom he had sentenced in the Koori court were far more engaged than those in a traditional court, he said.
Source: The Age and The Australian