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Jared

Jared Sharp

Year of Award: 2012 Award State: Northern Territory Legal > General
Social Welfare > Indigenous
The Justice James Muirhead Churchill Fellowship to investigate strategies for increasing the cultural integrity of court processes for Aboriginal young people and their families in the Northern Territory Youth Justice System - USA, Canada, New Zealand
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Our justice system is not meeting the needs of Aboriginal people. We have a system of imposed justice, where Aboriginal people feel little sense of ownership or engagement. Decisions are made about Aboriginal people, not together with them. Aboriginal defendants are not engaged in court processes. They often don’t understand technical language used in court, or have a shared understanding of Western legal concepts they are subjected to. 

In other ways, our processes do not create a culturally supportive environment for Aboriginal people. Courts seldom have detailed cultural information about an Aboriginal defendant when making life-changing decisions such as whether to sentence an Aboriginal person to prison or refuse them bail. Aboriginal restorative justice practices like mediation that promote healing, restore relationships and repair harm done, are rarely part of how our justice system resolves a matter, with the consequence that relationships and underlying issues are left unaddressed. 

The aim of this project is to see what we can learn from promising initiatives in Canada, the Unites States and New Zealand. I was able to observe attempts in each of these jurisdictions to improve justice processes and outcomes for Aboriginal people. It is argued that it has only been when these jurisdictions have acknowledged systemic bias in how the justice system deals with Aboriginal people that Aboriginal- specific justice initiatives have been able to grow. 

We can improve justice processes and outcomes for Aboriginal people. But to do this, we need to understand that it is the system that must change. We need to see that in a modern legal system, it is possible for two cultures, and two approaches to justice, to coexist. We need to develop culturally- strengthening initiatives that reconnect an offender with their cultural identity and bring in Elders, family and a defendant’s community to help them address the issues underpinning their offending. If we create the space for two cultures to co-exist, this will lead to improved procedural justice for Aboriginal people and strengthen the legitimacy of the justice system as a whole. 

Twenty recommendations are made. They encompass: 

(a)  Making our justice system more culturally responsive, where culture is seen as a foundation for engaging Aboriginal people and detailed cultural information is provided to courts so they can make informed sentencing and bail decisions 

(b)  Procedural Fairness, so that people understand and have a say in decisions made in court about them 

(c)  specialist processes like Rangatahi and Pasifika Youth Courts that include a defendant’s family, the victim, and Elders and use cultural reconnection as a key strategy to get an Aboriginal young person back on the right track 

(d)  the importance of Aboriginal judges, who can more effectively communicate and engage Aboriginal defendants in the court process 

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