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New Court for Aboriginal Youth

In late 2004, new legislation created a Children’s Koori Court in the Australian state of Victoria. The Children and Young Persons (Koori Court) Act 2004 augments 1989 legislation, which established specialized Children’s courts. With this new initiative, the government is attempting to create a less formal, more culturally relevant justice experience for young aboriginal offenders, their families, and community.

The Children’s Koori[1] courts will address sentencing needs of aboriginal youths in all criminal cases with the exception of sexual crimes. To be eligible for this court the offender must plead guilty or have been found guilty of the offence and choose to be processed through the specialized court. In determining a sentence, the court may solicit input from

  • Aboriginal elders or respected persons
  • Children’s Koori court officers or juvenile justice workers
  • Health service providers
  • Victims of the offence
  • Family members of the offender
  • Anyone else the Koori Court considers appropriate

With the purpose of incorporating Aboriginal voices in sentencing decisions, the court is to conduct procedures with “as little formality and technicality” as possible. This includes taking steps to ensure that the proceedings are comprehensible to the young offender, family members of the offender, and any member of the Aboriginal community present in the court

The Children’s Koori courts are modelled after pilot adult Koori courts created by the Magistrates Court (Koori Court) Act of 2002. These courts were created as a result of the Aboriginal Justice Agreement between the state government and Aboriginal communities, which aims to reduce over-representation of indigenous peoples in the criminal justice system. In Victoria, indigenous young people aged 10-17 are 16.6 times more likely to be in juvenile detention than non-indigenous juveniles.  

In these courts, the physical setting is changed to create a more informal and culturally relevant environment. The magistrate does not wear the garb associated with his office and sits at eye level with the offender. Aboriginal community elders or respected persons sit beside the magistrate and offer insight on the particular case. The process includes all relevant voices to the case including Aboriginal justice offices, community members, and victims in developing a sentencing plan that will lead to rehabilitation.

The adult Koori courts have not been in existence long enough to evaluate their impact on recidivism. However, community and justice leaders are confident that they are having a positive impact on the indigenous community. For example, voluntary participation rates of aboriginal offenders transferred to the Koori court have improved to 90% success compared to less than 50% in the regular magistrates court.  

The Children’s Koori court will commence in 2005 for a two-year pilot period.


Resources used: 

Australia’s First Children’s Court for Koories Media release from the Minister of Community Services, Office of the Attorney General.  

What is the Koori Court? 

New Order in the Court. Time Asia. May 3, 2004. Number 17. 

Children and Young Persons (Koori Court) Act 2004. Act No. 89/2004

Children and Young Persons Act 1989. Version incorporating amendments as at 8 December 2004.

[1] In Victoria, Aboriginal people are called Koories.


Lynette Parker 
February 2005

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