Community Courts (NT)
In 2023, the Northern Territory government passed the Sentencing Legislation Amendment Act, which reintroduces community courts in the NT. It is hoped that the use of community courts will lead to better outcomes for Indigenous people who come into contact with the justice system. This page outlines how the new sentencing process will work.
What are community courts?
Community courts are courts that allow Aboriginal offenders to be sentenced in an Aboriginal community of their choosing should they opt for their matter to be dealt with in this way. The community court involves Aboriginal elders in the sentencing process and takes into account the defendant’s connection to the place.
Community courts operated in the NT from 2003 until 2012, when they were discontinued.
Who is eligible?
Under section 107D of the Sentencing Act 1995, a person may apply to the Local Court or Youth Court to be sentenced by a community court if:
- they have pleaded guilty to an offence in the Local Court
- they have agreed with the prosecution in relation to the facts surrounding the offence
- they are Aboriginal.
The application must specify a location and a Law and Justice Group for the community court.
The court will decide whether to grant the application, taking into account the person’s connection to the place nominated and any other matters the court considers relevant.
Who is not eligible?
An Aboriginal person will not be considered if:
- they are pleading not guilty
- the facts of the offence are in dispute
- the offence must be dealt with by the Supreme Court.
Aboriginal experience reports
Under the new laws, Law and Justice Groups in Aboriginal communities will be responsible for preparing Aboriginal experience reports in respect of the individuals who choose to be sentenced in the community court.
Under section 107B of the Sentencing Act 1995, an Aboriginal experience report may contain information about:
- the offender’s personal circumstances and family
- their employment status
- their health
- the victim
- the impact of the offending on the community
- the relationship between the offender and the community
- the steps they have taken towards rehabilitation
- general information about the causes of crime.
The report may provide advice to the court as to the most appropriate sentencing options.
Community court sentencing procedure
Under section 107E of the Sentencing Act 1995, the community court will hear the matter and impose the sentence in the place specified in the application.
The court must have regard to the Aboriginal experience report.
The court may ask questions of the members of the law and Justice Group that prepared the report and must have regard to their answers. The court may also have regard to all the matters that are usually taken into account at sentencing.
Aboriginal people make up over 80 per cent of the criminal defendants who pass through the Local Court in the NT. It is hoped that the reintroduction of culturally appropriate sentencing processes for eligible offenders will lead to better sentencing outcomes and help to reduce offending by and incarceration of Indigenous people.
If you require legal advice or representation in any legal matter, please contact Go To Court Lawyers.