Murri Courts will soon be operating in Cairns, Caloundra and Mackay, according to Donna O’Donoghue, Adviser to Queensland Attorney-General, Kerry Shine.
The courts, designed to meet the special needs of Indigenous Australians, commenced operation in Brisbane in 2002, and are currently operating in Brisbane, Ipswich, Mt Isa, Townsville, Caboolture, Cherbourg and Cleveland, Ms O’Donoghue said.
To be eligible for Murri Courts, the defendant in criminal matters must be Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander, have pleaded guilty or intend to plead guilty to an offence in the Magistrate’s court, and have consented or requested to be sentenced in the Murri Court.
Ms O’Donoghue said that here were indications that the Murri Court is having success in regard to its objective of diverting offenders from prison.
The offender is encouraged to speak directly and openly to the court and Aboriginal Elders, rather than speaking through their legal representatives, as in the general Magistrate’s court.
Bob Colless, Manager of the Cairns Community Justice Group, representing the Gumba Gumba Elders, of Cairns, sees several major benefits of Murri Courts, including that Elders and respected persons are involved in the court process, assisting the defender develop trust in the court.
Mr Colless said that the offender is acknowledged in the court process, and their awareness of the impact of their offending on the victims and the community is increased.
Mr Colless said the main difference between the Murri Court and the mainstream court is that Elders have the opportunity to advise the magistrate on cultural and social issues and requesting sentencing conditions.
The Cairns Murri Court will commence a pilot program in September 2007 through to December 2007, with the official opening in January 2008.
Ms O’Donoghue said that a review of the Murri Courts had been commissioned in 2005, and the information from this review was to determine whether the Murri Court should be formalised as part of Government policy, and whether additional resources should be sought for Murri Courts.
At present, there is no specific legislation in place, but most individuals and groups who participated in the Murri Court Review were in favour of legislation to make the Murri Court a permanent feature of the Queensland Magistrates Court.
15th June 2007