This procedure provides guidance for professional conduct in a Koori court by youth justice court advice workers and case managers.

 

When to use this procedure

When Youth Justice Court Advice Service (YJCAS) workers, case managers, and other workers representing youth justice are required to attend Koori court.

 

Practice context and legislation

  • The Koori court aims to:
    • reduce over-representation of young Aboriginal people in the justice system
    • improve the defendants’ understanding of the court
    • encourage defendants to take responsibility for their actions and recognise the consequences of their behaviour
    • create a court system that is culturally responsive to Aboriginal people
    • ensure greater participation of the Aboriginal community in the sentencing process
    • explore sentencing alternatives prior to imprisonment
    • increase community safety.
  • The Koori court is an initiative of the Victorian Aboriginal Justice Agreement. The children’s Koori court was established under ss. 517–520 of the Children, Youth and Families Act 2005.
  • The Koori court provides an environment that allows greater participation by the Aboriginal community in the court process.
  • Proceedings are conducted in an informal setting to foster understanding and participation.
  • At the start of each case the judge or magistrate must acknowledge the custodians of the court location.
  • Koori courts exercise their jurisdiction with less formality than other courts while retaining the necessary powers of the court.
  • The offender will be involved and participate in the sentencing conversation during the hearing.
  • There are Koori court divisions of the county court, the magistrates' court and the children's court that sit across Victoria.
 

Roles and key tasks

Youth justice court advice service worker

  • Provide court advice and assistance to young people, their families, other youth justice staff, the judiciary and legal representatives.
  • Gather information in accordance with this procedure.

Case manager

  • The case manager and senior case manager undertake the tasks outlined above if there is no dedicated youth justice court advice worker.

Team leader / unit manager

  • Guide and instruct the worker providing court advice.
  • Promote adherence to court conventions to your team and make sure they comply.
  • Undertake CRIS audits to ensure information is recorded as required.
  • Help the youth justice court advice service worker to manage any transfer issues if a young person appears in court outside the area in which they reside.

Assistant Director / Manager Individual and Family Support

  • Provide oversight, direction and monitoring of the area youth justice service.
  • Ensure there is youth justice court advice coverage at all scheduled children’s court sittings in your area.

Youth Justice Senior Practice Advisor

  • Provide case consultation, particularly regarding young people exhibiting high-risk behaviours.
  • This should occur subject to local area agreements between Assistant Director / Manager Individual Family Support and the Senior Practice Advisor.
 

The procedure in detail

Legal definition of Aboriginal person

Under the provisions of the Children, Youth and Family Act 2005, for young people to be eligible for Koori court, they must:

  • descend from an Aboriginal person or Torres Strait Islander
  • identify as an Aboriginal person or Torres Strait Islander
  • be accepted as an Aboriginal person or Torres Strait Islander by an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Island community.

Note: The Koori court does not involve itself in the determination of issues to do with Aboriginality. The person's Aboriginality must be determined before they are referred to the Koori court.

Eligibility

For a case to be heard in a Koori court the young person must:

  • be charged with an offence that can be heard in a magistrates' court, children's court or county court
  • not be charged with an offence that involves family violence offences or offences of a sexual nature (in the magistrates' and county Koori court)
  • not be charged with an offence of a sexual nature (in the children's Koori court)
  • live within, or have been charged within, the boundary area of a Koori court
  • plead guilty or intend to plead guilty to the offence and for children's court, alternatively been found guilty
  • give consent and be willing to come to the Koori court to talk about their story and join in the sentencing conversation.

Unlike the magistrates' division of the Koori court, an Aboriginal young person who has pleaded not guilty but has been found guilty by the criminal division of the children's court may have their case transferred to the children's Koori court for sentencing.

Key participants

Key participants in the Koori court are comprised of the following, but others may attend as required:

  • judge or magistrate
  • Aboriginal elder or respected person
  • Koori court officer
  • police prosecutor
  • YJCAS worker
  • legal representative
  • community corrections officer.

Role of Aboriginal elder or respected person

The role of the Aboriginal elder or respected person is to provide a cultural advisory role to the court.

They may provide background information about the young person to assist in understanding the reasons for the offending behaviour.

Participation by the Aboriginal elder or respected person sends a message to the young person that their offending is not condoned by either Aboriginal or non-Aboriginal communities.

Role of Koori court officer

The Koori court officer coordinates and builds strong relationships with all the stakeholders in the Koori court, including service providers.

The Koori court officer liaises with the defendant and their family before, during and after court proceedings.

The Koori court officer may assist the defendant in accessing support services or provide more information about court processes.

Role of youth justice worker

The youth justice worker must:

  • display expert knowledge and awareness of the youth justice role in the Koori court
  • demonstrate recognition of the authority of the court and respect for culture
  • model appropriate behaviour to young people.

The youth justice worker presents the pre-sentence report, deferral of sentence report and youth justice centre suitability assessment.

A plea must be made in the general court before a referral to Koori court.

The Koori court is interactive and encourages discussion with the youth justice worker and other professionals present.

The youth justice worker may also be required to answer questions or concerns raised by the Aboriginal elders regarding the role of youth justice and related services.

Role of prosecutor

The police prosecutor represents Victoria Police and the informant in the matter.

The prosecutor will provide the court with information on charges and sentencing as required.

Koori court training

To ensure a clear understanding of the aims and objectives of the Koori court, participants in the Koori court team are required to undertake training offered by the Department of Human Services.

All youth justice workers are encouraged to attend the Building Aboriginal Cultural Competence Foundation Program. This workshop is designed to build awareness of Aboriginal culture and issues affecting Aboriginal staff and service users.

Reports

The Koori court adopts a similar process in relation to requesting and considering reports.

The judge or magistrate exercises discretion regarding the release of any information from submitted reports.

Youth justice may be asked to provide reports such as pre-sentence reports, deferral of sentence reports and youth justice centre suitability assessments.

Preparation and submission of these reports should follow the same processes as other jurisdictions.

The magistrate, judge, elders or respected persons are provided with the defendant's charges, police summaries and any relevant reports, that the judge or magistrate releases, before proceedings start.

Courtroom etiquette

Despite Koori courts operating in a less formal environment, youth justice workers should be mindful of the general rules of court etiquette. See the procedure for attending court for more information.

Koori courts in different locations may vary in how they function. In some courts all participants must stand when the magistrate and elders enter the courtroom; in other courts this is not required.

Youth justice workers should contact the Koori court officer prior to attending to confirm the etiquette specific to that court.

Seating arrangements in court

Proceedings are conducted around an oval table with all key participants, including the magistrate and young person, seated around the table. Participants speak in plain language, rather than using technical or legal language.

In the Koori children’s court, a youth justice worker will sit at the table as a representative of the Department of Human Services to provide advice to the court on sentencing or in some cases to prosecute a breach.

In adult jurisdictions, youth justice may be involved in matters for young Aboriginal people aged between 18 and 20 years. The youth justice worker sits in court, but not at the table. If a report is to be tendered to the magistrate, the worker must ask permission to approach the table.

In the Koori court division of the county court the judge will sit at the table for discussions with participants, however for sentencing will resume their position at the bench and the defendant will be seated in the dock.

If a Department of Justice community corrections officer is present during an adult jurisdiction proceeding, they must sit at the table to provide advice on sentencing or present the breach of an order.

Other community agencies or support services may be present in the courtroom and provide information to the court as required.

Decision making

The magistrate or judge makes the decision about the sentencing outcome.

The Koori elder or respected person will provide the court with advice relating to cultural matters.

The magistrate may consider this advice when handing down the disposition.