Other Relevant Strategic and Evaluative Documentation

Harris, M, ‘A Sentencing Conversation - Evaluation of the Koori Court Pilot in the Shepparton and Broadmeadows Magistrates' Courts 2002-2004'(2006) (Department of Justice (1)

This Department of Justice evaluation of the Koori Courts in Victoria indicates that the Koori Court first sat at Shepparton on 7 October 2002, following the passage of the Magistrates' Court (Koori Court) Act 2002.  Six months later, the Broadmeadows Koori Court commenced sitting as the first Metropolitan Koori Court. A third Koori Court has subsequently been established that sits in the south-west of the State at Warrnamabool.  The evaluation found that the Koori Courts have been ‘a resounding success' (8). This initiative has reduced the levels of recidivism amongst Koori defendants, which in turn has direct ramifications for the levels of over-representation within the prison system. The Shepparton Koori Court had a recidivism rate of approximately 12.5% for the two years of the pilot program and the Broadmeadows Koori Court's re-offending rate was approximately 15.5%.  Further, it has achieved reductions in the breach rates for community corrections orders and the rates of Koori defendants failing to appear for their court dates, along with achieving broader objectives such as reinforcing the status and authority of Elders and Respected Persons, and thereby strengthening the Koori Community.  It was recommended that the model be extended to other areas of the State. (2)

This initiative has been singled out as being one of the more effective justice initiatives in Victoria on a number of occasions. The VAJA2 identified Koori Courts, Aboriginal Liaison Officers and cultural awareness training for magistrates and other staff as successful initiatives.  Other effective court programs, according to the VAJA2, include Aboriginal Bail Justices and Sheriff's Office Aboriginal Liaison Officer Program.  

The Legal Aid Commission (Vic) has also identified Koori Courts as being the most effective recent Indigenous justice initiative.  It now operates in Mildura, Warnambool, Shepparton, and in the city, at Morwell and there is also the Childrens' Koori Court. At Shepparton, the improvement in the relationship between white and Indigenous communities now is apparently ‘palpable', as recidivism is being drastically reduced, and police and local employers are involved.  Rumbalara, a local Indigenous sporting club, has been reborn as a result, in part, of the Koori Court, and is now also operating as an Indigenous employment agency. (3) Similarly, Victorian Youth Justice (Department of Human Services) also referred to the success of the Childrens' Koori Court.  It has been operating since 2005, and appears to be successful, particularly because the greater involvement of community and family means that children are more likely to appear in court. (4)

Victorian Indigenous Family Violence Taskforce Final Report (2003) (Dept of Communities)

In 2002, the Government released theFramework for the development of the Victorian Indigenous Family Violence Strategy: a partnership approach between Indigenous Communities and Government (the Framework). The Framework outlined a three-stage process for developing and implementing an Indigenous Family Violence Strategy.  The first stage involved establishing an Indigenous-led Task Force to consult with Indigenous communities, and to advise Government, on ways to respond effectively to Indigenous family violence. The second stage required a response from Government to the Task Force's recommendations, and stage three required development and implementation of an Indigenous Family Violence Plan.  An independent Indigenous Family Violence Taskforce was established in October 2001, in part in order to provide a final report to Government making recommendations in relation to a culturally appropriate state-wide strategy for addressing this issue. Aboriginal Affairs Victoria (Department for Victorian Communities) had overall responsibility for the Task Force, and released the Final Report of the Task Force in 2003.

Ultimately, the Task Force made 28 recommendations, including that a research project be undertaken to determine the merits and feasibility of establishing an Indigenous Family Violence Court and the changes needed to provide a culturally safe and secure environment for Indigenous family violence victims (14); and that specific cultural awareness programs about Indigenous Family Violence issues be developed and attended by staff of mainstream services who have contact with Indigenous victims of family violence, including Corrections Officers (23).

Victorian Government Response to the Victorian Indigenous Family Violence Taskforce Final Report (2004)

In their response to the Taskforce Report, the Government praises the work undertaken in stage one of the process, and, in brief, committed to establishing a Family Violence division of the Magistrates Court.  Whilst the Family Violence Division of the Magistrates Court is not specifically targeted to Indigenous communities, a core component of the Family Violence Division Project is to ensure that training, recruitment, court processes and interagency protocols provide a court service that will respond to the needs and expectations of the Indigenous Community, amongst other communities. Like the Koori Court, the Family Violence Division will be carefully evaluated to establish whether the model developed meets the needs of the Indigenous community.  These evaluations will inform future policy about the most effective ways for courts to respond to family violence in Indigenous communities. (5)

Further, the Family Violence Court Intervention Program (FVCIP) will trial mandated behaviour change counselling for men subject to an intervention order for family violence in the two Family Violence Division Courts. This counselling aims to make men using violence accountable for their behaviour and to stop violent behaviour, and the program will also offer support to family members who have experienced violence. Whilst the FVCIP will be part of a mainstream pilot, the counselling and support available to Indigenous families will be culturally appropriate and address the needs of Indigenous communities. Again, evaluation of the FVCIP will consider its effectiveness in addressing Indigenous family violence. (6)

Department of Justice, (2008) Enforcement Operations Koori Strategy 2008-2010, Department of Justice Victoria (7)

The Enforcement Operations Koori Strategy 2008-2010 was developed with the objective of encouraging Koories to meet their infringement obligations and thereby minimise the risk of further penetration into the justice system by enhancing options (through collaboration between Enforcement Operations and other justice agencies, government departments and Koori community groups).   It was developed in the context of the RCIADIC, VIAF, and the VAJA, inter alia, and the troubling issue of Indigenous over-representation in Victoria. 

In brief, the strategy involves strategies such as the Koori Court identifying infringement matters for Koori Court defendants; support for the implementation and ongoing operation of the Koori Offender Support and Mentoring Program and the Koori Local Justice Worker Program (8); facilitating access by Koories to the Melbourne Magistrates Court Special Circumstances list, where appropriate, and consideration of expanding the Special Circumstances list to Koori Court locations; working with Corrections to investigate the expansion of culturally sensitive community work sites to cater for Koori defendants converting fines/warrants to community work and to identify options to better support community organizations supervising Community Work permits; and developing protocols with Wulgunggo Ngalu (9) to ensure infringement matters are resolved during participation in the program. 

Atkinson, Kerr & Associates, (2005) Evaluation of the Koori Cognitive Skills Program Pilots for Corrections Victoria: Final Report, Department of Justice Victoria (10)

The independent evaluation of the Corrections' Koori Cognitive Skills Program considered three pilot programs provide to Aboriginal men and women in correctional facilities. The Program is an offending behaviour program within Corrections Victoria's Reducing Re-offending Framework. It is adapted from the mainstream Cognitive Skills Program (CSP) and supports the second key objective of the Victorian Aboriginal Justice Agreement: ‘to identify and respond effectively to the needs of Aboriginal people through the development and delivery of culturally appropriate policies, programs and services'.

The evaluation found that, overall, the adaptation, implementation and evaluation of the program was successful.  In terms of adaptation, a Koori registered psychologist undertook this task, also engaging a male and a female Koori elder to ensure the work met community standards of cultural integrity. A wide range of culturally relevant adaptations was made. Attendance rates for the three pilot groups were high, averaging 91% across the three locations. Adherence to the program manual was high - facilitators fully completed 73% of the activities specified in the program. a high A level of skills acquisition was demonstrated, averaging 77% at session 15 and 100% at session 29.  Further, at all three locations the Koori participants who completed the program were seen to have a sense of achievement and enhanced self-esteem. The program was seen as a benefit to the institution, as an opportunity to raise the profile of Indigenous needs and concerns and to demonstrate cultural responsiveness.  At one location, it appeared to improve rapport between officers and Koori prisoners, and equipped officers to better negotiate tensions between Koori and non-Koori prisoners.
The majority of participants rated the program highly in terms of its usefulness, their enjoyment of it and how much they felt it had helped them.

Other Best Practice

Cultural Immersion (Prisons)
The Aboriginal Cultural Immersion Program is an initiatives based on a pilot conducted in 1998 by Corrections Victoria.  It involves Aboriginal Elders presenting
culturally-based activities to incarcerated offenders (VAJA1 & 2; Atkinson 2005)

Community-based alternatives to incarceration
Both the Warrakoo Life Skills (VAJA 1 & 2; DOJ (Vic) 2005a), and the Wulgunggo Ngalu Learning Place residential programs have been identified as successful
(VAJA2) (see also DOJ (Vic) 2005a). 


1. See the evaluation report.

2. An ongoing commitment to the Koori Court is found in the Department of Justice' publication - New Directions for the Magistrates' Court of Victoria 2008-2011. See also Courts and Programs Development Unit (Department of Justice), (2006) Policy Framework to Consolidate and Extend Problem-Solving Courts and Approaches, Department of Justice, Victoria.

3. Michael Wighton, Executive Manager (Regional Offices etc.), Legal Aid Commission (Vic), telephone conversation with author, 30 June 2008

4. Yvonne Luke, Koori Justice Program Advisor, Victorian Youth Justice, Department of Human Services, telephone conversation with author, 23 June 2008. (See also Auty K., Briggs D, Thomson K., Gibson M. & Porter G., (2005) 'The Koori Court: A Positive Experience' 79 (5) Law Institute Journal 41; Davies, S, (2005) ‘Warrnambool Koori Court : improving relations between indigenous people and Victoria Police', Indigenous Law Bulletin 6 (14): 6-7;  Harris, M., (2006) ‘A Sentencing Conversation - Evaluation of the Koori Courts Pilot Program October 2002-October 2004', Department of Justice, and (2006)  'The Koori Court and the Promise of Therapeutic Jurisprudence' 1 eLaw Journal (special series) 129 ).

5. For information provided in relation to the Court for Indigenous Victorians, see the Department of Justice's Koori Brochures.

6. For information on the program, see the Department of Justice's Overview of Family Violence Court Counselling Programs.

7. Available online. See also the Sheriff's Koori Brochure.

8. For information on the Koori Local Justice Worker program, click here.

9. For information on the Wulgunggo Ngalu initiative, click here.

10. See report.