Australia’s top judge urges action on family violence and Indigenous prison rates
The Chief Justice of the highest court in Australia has taken the rare step of speaking out about the need for action on family violence and our “appallingly high rate of indigenous incarceration”.
Chief Justice French rarely speaks on issues publicly, so this is an important step for shining the spotlight on the over-representation of Indigenous people in the justice system.
At the 16th State of the Judicature address the Chief Justice echoed recent statements by the Law Council and Australian Bar Associations – that mandatory minimum sentences were not the answer. He said instead “a nuanced approach, including the concept of justice reinvestment is required.”
This came in the same week as the Chief Justice of Western Australia said: “We haven’t been listening to Aboriginal people about what they want and [we] need to help them solve their problems… We need to do a lot more listening and a lot less talking”.
Chief Justice French also highlighted the need for action on family violence, including the expansion of resourcing for legal services.
He said the challenges for responding to family violence were particularly acute in cases involving Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women and migrant and refugee women, who face cultural and language barriers in their interactions with the justice system.
Family Violence and Indigenous prison rates
Currently, the statistics are alarming:
Indigenous women are 34 times more likely to be hospitalised as a result of family violence than other women.
Indigenous adults are 14 times more likely to be imprisoned than non-Indigenous adults.
Indigenous children are 24 times more likely to be in detention than their non-Indigenous peers, and family violence is one of the key underlying issues that leads to contact with the youth justice system.
Indigenous women are the fastest growing prison population in Australia.
Legal representatives in Perth told Amnesty that the girls they represent are more likely to appear in court for a serious one-off offence and often those appearing in the drug court were victims of serious domestic violence who had retaliated.
This is one of the reasons why our calls for national justice targets are for dual targets – one to cut family violence rates and one to cut imprisonment rates.
What does Amnesty want?
Through Amnesty’s Community is Everything campaign and our work as part of the Change the Record coalition, we’re calling on the Australian government to set dual national justice targets to:
Close the gap in the rates of imprisonment between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people by 2040.
Cut the disproportionate rates of violence against Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to at least close the gap by 2040, with priority strategies for women and children.