“Community Court” is a sentencing option available on application for Aboriginal offenders who have pleaded guilty to offending in the Local Court and Youth Court. Community Court takes place at certain declared communities in the Northern Territory.
- Where is Community Court Available?
- How to apply for Community Court
- Participation of Victims of Crime
- Sentencing in Community Court
- Breaches of Community Court Orders
The Community Court provides more information for criminal sentencing processes in the Local Court and Youth Court. In Community Court, senior Aboriginal people who are members of a community Law and Justice Group, appointed by the CEO of the Department of Attorney-General and Justice, help Judges understand an offender’s cultural and personal circumstances in the sentencing process as well as the impact on the community of the offending. The Law and Justice Group members may also make sure the Judge is aware of the views of the victim of the offending (where the victim consents).
Through the process the Law and Justice Group members will talk to an offender about their offending and available local options for their rehabilitation, encourage change in offenders’ lives and may make suggestions to the Judge about an appropriate sentence. However it is the Judge sentencing the offender in Community Court and not the Law and Justice Group members. Police and the Prosecution lawyers are also part of the process and can make submissions to the Court about the impact of offending and the sentence.
Community Court is not a “soft option” and offenders are expected to work hard to make better choices and follow Court orders. The usual sentencing powers still apply in Community Court and an offender can be sent to prison or detention even when they are sentenced in Community Court.
Community Court is currently available on Groote Eylandt. It is anticipated that Community Court will become available in Maningrida and Kintore later this year.
To apply to be sentenced in Community Court an offender:
- must have entered a plea of guilty to offending that is able to be finalised in the Local Court or Youth Justice Court, it does not apply for serious offences that will be finalised in the Supreme Court;
- must have agreed the facts of their offending with the prosecution and have provided a copy to the court;
- must be Aboriginal; and
- must have a connection to the community where they are applying to be sentenced.
(see s107D of the Sentencing Act and s80C of the Youth Justice Act).
If an offender meets all of the above conditions they or their lawyer can fill out a Community Court application and consent form found on the Local Court website. The applicant or their lawyer must provide a copy of the completed application to the prosecution and file a copy with the Local Court.
Whether an application is approved to go to Community Court is up to the Judge hearing the application. If approved, the Court will order that a report about the offender, called an Aboriginal Experience Report, be prepared by the appointed members of the Law and Justice Group of the relevant community. The matter will be adjourned to a Community Court date.
If the Court does not approve the application the offender will be sentenced in the usual way.
An Aboriginal Experience Report is a detailed report about the offender and the offending, which is prepared by the appointed members of the Law and Justice Group.
To prepare the report the Law and Justice Group members will talk to the offender, the victim and/or their representative (if the victim consents) and any other people with an interest in the matter. The Law and Justice Group members will also draw on their own knowledge of the available programs or activities on community that might be suitable for the offender’s rehabilitation, as well as make recommendations for programs that are not currently available, but which may assist.
At the sentencing hearing, the Law and Justice Group members will talk to the Judge directly about the contents of the Aboriginal Experience Report and possible sentences, tailored rehabilitation, restorative and/or cultural healing activities the offender could be directed to undertake. All parties, including the victim and offender, and the Prosecution, will be invited to share their perspectives.
The offender will be encouraged to talk to and directly engage with the Judge and Law and Justice Group members through this kind of sentencing process.
Victims of crime are able to participate directly in Community Court either in person or over remote technology such as phone or audio visual equipment.
If a victim does not wish to participate directly in proceedings they are able to nominate another person to provide their view to the court or decline participation in full.
After listening and considering all the things talked about in Community Court the Judge will sentence the offender.
Where an offender breaches a condition of a Community Court order or re-offends whilst on an order of the Community Court, the matter can be returned to Community Court with the offender’s consent and/or the views of the Law and Justice Group members obtained on the breach.
If you have any questions or require more information about Community Court in the Northern Territory please contact: NTLC.communitycourtsregistry [at] nt.gov.au