Aboriginal Community Justice Reports Project

Our online launch is a great way to learn about the Project. Read about the launch here, and watch the launch here.

The Project

The Victorian Aboriginal Legal Service is undertaking this Project, funded with an Australian Research Council grant, in partnership with the Australasian Institute of Judicial Administration, University of Technology Sydney and Griffith University. The project is also being run in Queensland, through Five Bridges Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Community Justice Group.

The Reports are modelled on Canada’s Gladue Reports, and adapted for the Victorian context. In Victoria, 20 Aboriginal Community Justice Reports will be produced. A case worker will be made available to each person who participates in order to provide support and care.

You can find more information on the Aboriginal Community Justice Reports Project here

 

Objectives

The Project aims to: 

  • Reduce the overincarceration of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people;
  • Improve sentencing processes and outcomes for Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander defendants. 

Information in the Reports will include:

  • a more holistic account of individual circumstances, including as they relate to a person’s community, culture and strengths;
  • community-based options.
Background

The below timeline outlines the development of the Aboriginal Community Justice Reports Project in Victoria:

In 2017, VALS released its discussion paper, Aboriginal Community Justice Reports: Addressing Over-Incarceration

In this paper:

  • VALS proposed trialling ‘Aboriginal Community Justice Reports… a pre-sentence, community written report, which aims to gather information about underlying impacts on any Aboriginal offender.’
  • ‘The purpose of preparing such reports is to identify possible underlying drivers of the individual’s offending, in particular, those that may relate to the impacts of trauma and colonisation uniquely experienced as an Aboriginal person… [it] also provides a further voice to the offender, their family and community, and thus greater involvement in, and engagement with the justice system.’
In 2018, the Victorian Government and the Aboriginal Justice Caucus committed to piloting Aboriginal Community Justice Reports over the five-year period of Burra Lotjpa Dunguludja: Victorian Aboriginal Justice Agreement Phase 4:
 
 
  • ‘Trial Aboriginal Community Justice Reports modelled on Canada’s Gladue reports to provide information to judicial officers about an Aboriginal person’s life experience and history that impacts their offending; and to identify more
    suitable sentencing arrangements to address these underlying factors.’ 
You can read VALS’ 2020 submission to the Sentencing Act Reform Project here.
Recommendations included:
  • ‘Support self-determined initiatives to improve sentencing outcomes for Aboriginal people, including by directing dedicated funding from Burra Lotjpa Dunguludja to the project currently being carried out by VALS and its partners on Aboriginal Community Justice Reports.’
Also, in 2017,  the Australian Law Reform Commission’s report, Pathways to Justice—An Inquiry into the Incarceration Rate of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples recommended that: ‘State and territory governments, in partnership with relevant Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander organisations, should develop and implement schemes that would facilitate the preparation of ‘Indigenous Experience Reports’ for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander offenders appearing for sentence in superior courts.’

 

Eligibility and Suitability

To be considered for an Aboriginal Community Justice Report, the following eligibility criteria must be met:

  • The person must be Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander;
  • The matter must be listed

            – for plea hearing;*
            – In the County Koori Court division or in the general list before a Judge who is eligible to sit in the Koori Court division
            – 
    at Melbourne or La Trobe Valley

  • The person must voluntarily consent to participating 

    * Matters that are listed for sentence appeal will not automatically be excluded from eligibility for the Project, but given the pilot will be producing only 20 reports, suitability for a report for a sentence appeal will be assessed on a case-by-case basis

Suitability is assessed by Aboriginal Community Justice Report staff, situated in VALS’ Community Justice Programs section. To enable assessment of suitability for an Aboriginal Community Justice Report:

  • A completed referral form must be sent to VALS’ Community Justice Programs;
  • The lawyer must have an initial meeting with Aboriginal Community Justice Report Project staff; 
  • The person whose matter is before the court must have an initial meeting with Aboriginal Community Justice Report Project staff;
  • There must be sufficient notice provided, to enable Aboriginal Community Justice Report Project staff to draft the report (at least 8 weeks). It is recommended that lawyers make a referral at the committal mention stage. Please advise the committing Magistrate in the Magistrate’s Court that you have an interest in participating in the Aboriginal Community Justice Report Project, so that the County Court can in turn be advised.

The person whose matter is before the court should be willing to participate in an interview after sentencing, for the purpose of researching the outcomes of the Report.

Please note that VALS is not charging fees for the production of an Aboriginal Community Justice Report.

If you wish to make a referral for an Aboriginal Community Justice Reports Project, please complete the referral form. Please check this website regularly to ensure that you are using the current version of the referral form. Please save the referral form as clientlastname_clientfirstname_ACJR referral and send it to acjrproject@vals.org.au.

If you have further questions, please contact Lee-Anne Carter (Statewide Community Justice Leader) at lcarter@vals.org.au

Our Project partners are:

To determine eligibility VALS will:

  • enquire as to the Aboriginality of the client;
  • enquire as to perceived or actual conflict of interest;
  • enquire as to compliance with the Means Test;
  • consider the merit of the client’s matter.

Aboriginality
The first time someone uses VALS they must provide proof of their Aboriginality using the Confirmation of Aboriginality Form. This form must be signed and sealed by the Officer Bearers of a recognised Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander organisation.

Conflict
VALS must not decline to provide assistance to an eligible person, group or body on the grounds that the other party to the matter is an Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander person. In circumstances where the relationship between the parties to a case would result in a conflict of interest, that conflict must be managed in accordance with the Victorian Legal Practice requirements and Policy Direction 9 – “Managing Conflicts of Interest” – of the Attorney-General’s Department Policy Directions for the Delivery of Legal Aid Services to Indigenous Australians (2008).

VALS will not act if a conflict of interest exists. A conflict of interest may be an ‘actual’ conflict of interest or a ‘perceived’ conflict of interest. A conflict of interest can involve:

  • Clients who have different interests, such as VALS may have advised or acted for person “A” (old client) who has an interest that conflicts with person “B” (intended new client).
  • Clients and VALS, such as a VALS staff member or Board Member has an interest that conflicts with an intended new client. Conflicts involving client-provider relationships are:
    •  An owner, director, manager, employee, contractor or agent of VALS and/or;
    • An employee of the Department; and/or
    • A close relative (spouse, de facto, parent, sibling or child) of any of the above.

VALS provides assistance on a first in best dressed basis (i.e. provide direct assistance to the party who approaches VALS first). VALS will refer the other party to another legal service provider or “brief out” the client to a private lawyer (subject to the client meeting the requirements for brief outs). Where appropriate, VALS may act for one client and provide assistance by brief out to the other.

Means Test
Where a person seeks casework assistance, VALS must ensure that applicants satisfy the Means Testing provisions of the Policy Directions.

VALS must ensure that all applicants for legal casework assistance satisfy one or more of the following requirements:

  • Under 18 years of age;
  • Main source of income comes from Community Development Employment Projects; (CDEP) participant wages or Centrelink (or equivalent) benefits; or
  • Gross household income is under $52,000 per annum.

Note: Household income includes the income of your partner, spouse, relative including an adult child who you live with.

The Means Test will be administered in two parts:

Part A: Requires the completion of a small number of questions relating to the applicant’s personal circumstances and income level.

Part B: Is required where applicants do not satisfy the criteria in Part A. It requires more detail about the applicant’s income, assets, employment status and number of dependents.

Merit Test
Discretion will be used to determine if a particular case has merit.