The first of 13 courts reopened in Rockhampton yesterday as part of an $8.7 million dollar program unveiled by the state Labor government.
A community initiative involving Aboriginal elders in the sentencing process, the Murri Court was axed by the Newman government in 2012, amid protests from local elders and legal experts.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people account for 32 percent of Queensland prisoners, making them 11 times more likely to be imprisoned than the wider population.
Queensland Attorney-General Yvette D’Ath says she hopes the reinstated system will help break the incarceration cycle.
“It is really important that we give our courts… the opportunity to look at diversionary programs to ensure that we are rehabilitating those who come before the courts,” she says.
“It’s not just about incarceration, it's about actually looking at the circumstances and where it is seen as appropriate ensuring that we can stop recidivism through rehabilitation and other programs.”
The reinstatement of the Murri Court system has been welcomed by the Queensland Law Society.
“Courts like the Murri Court and the Drug Court have been successful in reducing re-offending and incarceration, and it is good to see them on the way back in Queensland,” says Queensland Law Society president Bill Potts.
Members of the local Indigenous community agree.
Darumbal Elder Dean Edmund says the court provides community-based penalties as an alternative to prison sentences.
“(It) gives us greater involvement… in the top of the justice system rather than scrambling around as victims at the bottom,” he says.
“When offenders come in they see elders in the courtroom situation and have more respect for the laws.
“While there is no Murri Court a lot of offenders are going to court for minor crimes or petty crimes.”