Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island people

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are the indigenous inhabitants of Australia and have endured a history of dispossession and of inappropriate treatment by the justice system. In many cases this requires a legal and policy response that is different to that which needs to be adopted for immigrant cultural, ethnic and other interest groups. The Law Reform Commission has considered the special needs of Indigenous people in a number of its reviews.
  • Adoption laws. The Commission made special recommendations about the adoption of Indigenous children in chapter 9 [PDF, 1Mb] of its report on the review of the Adoption Act. This followed a study of the special needs of Indigenous people in the adoption process which the Commission published in Research Report 7.
  • Sentencing laws. As part of the review of the law of sentencing, the Commission made recommendations on the sentencing of Aboriginal offenders in Report 96 [PDF, 942Kb]
  • Community mediation. As part of its review of Community Justice Centres, the Commission was asked to consider whether the current structure of Community Justice Centres sufficiently meets the needs of the Indigenous community of New South Wales. Chapter 9[PDF, 833Kb] of our Report on Community Justice Centres considers the provision of community mediation services to Indigenous people. Further background may be obtained from Chapter 6 of our Issues Paper on Community Justice Centres.
  • Evidence laws. Evidence of Indigenous land use and customs is often only available as part of an oral tradition. As part of the review of the laws of evidence in Australia, the NSW Law Reform Commission, together with the Australian Law Reform Commission and the Victorian Law Reform Commission have considered a number of issues relating to Indigenous people including: how evidence of traditional laws and customs can be used in legal proceedings; and whether Indigenous witnesses should be made to disclose evidence that would make them liable to punishment under traditional laws and customs. These issues are discussed in Chapter 19 of the Report on the review of the uniform Evidence Acts.
  • Inheritance. When a person dies without leaving a will, the legal system has a series of set rules (called "intestacy rules") for distributing his or her property. In general in Australia, the distribution of property on intestacy is based on a relatively narrow range of family relationships that reflect English law and society. It may be inappropriate to apply these current general rules to members of Indigenous communities, who may have a broader concept of family relationships. Chapter 14 [PDF, 1Mb]of our Report on Intestacy considers how the intestacy rules could be altered to take into account Indigenous concepts of kinship and property.
  • Criminal proceedings. As part of the review of people with intellectual disability in the criminal justice system, the Commission published a study of two local courts in rural areas with a large Indigenous population. The study found that more than half of the accused persons appearing before these local courts were likely to have significant difficulty in understanding court proceedings. The study was published in Research Report 5.
  • Jury selection. As part of the review of laws relating to jury selection, the Commission considered the under-representation of Indigenous people on NSW juries. The Commission details the factors giving rise to this under-representation in Chapter 1 [PDF, 1Mb] of our Report on jury selection.