When 19-year-old Yorta-Yorta man Zayden Cemino pleaded guilty to “various offences” in April last year in Echuca, he requested his sentencing to be carried out at the Koori Court located one hour away in Shepparton.
Mr Cemino’s mother - a Yorta-Yorta woman - had recently passed away and for him, having the sentencing heard before Elders on his traditional country was a matter of cultural safety.
“I wanted to go to Koori Court because it's more comfortable for me, I don't feel like I'm talking about personal things with a complete stranger,” he said.
That request was denied by the magistrate, in part because the offences were committed in Echuca not Shepparton. Echuca currently does not have a Koori Court.
'Aboriginal cultural right'
The Victorian Aboriginal Legal Service (VALS) argued in court on Monday access to the Koori Court is an “Aboriginal cultural right” enshrined in the 'Victorian Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities'.
“Koori Courts provide a more meaningful and culturally appropriate sentencing experience than mainstream courts, and today’s Supreme Court decision promotes access, especially for people in regional areas without a local Koori Court,” VALS Director of Legal and Client Services Meena Singh said.
Justice Ginnane found that Mr Cemino’s request shouldn't have been denied. He also found that Mr Cemino had a right to enjoy his Aboriginal culture and identity.
Mr Cemino will have a new magistrate consider his request.
At Koori Court a magistrate is present alongside community Elders and respected persons such as Indigenous support workers and family members, who are all invited to speak during the hearing. Often the magistrate will sit on the same level as the young person and Elders, around an oval table instead of at the bench.
Koori Courts have been introduced in the Australian Capital Territory and trialled in New South Wales, but the first Aboriginal sentencing court in Australia was South Australia's Nunga Court.
Evaluations have shown Koori Courts dramatically reduce the number of days young offenders spend in detention.