Legal Aid commissions call for justice targets to close the gap

Legal Aid commissions call for justice targets to close the gap

Tuesday, 15 May 2018

Through a National Legal Aid (NLA) joint submission to the Closing the Gap Refresh, we have argued for constitutional reform, a justice reinvestment approach and the inclusion of a range of justice targets and measures to improve access to justice for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

‘Through this submission we recognise that the Closing the Gap Refresh is a chance to improve all levels of government’s approach to addressing the stark disparities between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians’, Victoria Legal Aid Associate Director of Aboriginal Services, Meena Singh said.

The submission draws on the direct experience of the nation’s eight legal aid commissions and the findings of several reports and inquiries to call for more tailored, community-led and culturally appropriate solutions to what it calls ‘deep-rooted and dire problems’ that require the intensive and sustained attention of governments.

As Closing the Gap is currently silent on addressing the over-representation of First Nations people in the criminal justice system and as victims of violence, the submission strongly supports the inclusion of justice targets to bring national attention, accountability and action to address the disproportionate rates of incarceration of, and violence against, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples.

From the submission – ‘The strategy to date of focusing on underlying drivers of incarceration and victimisation has not worked. While education, employment and health indicators can impact justice and safety outcomes, the scale of the over-representation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples in youth detention and prisons around the country underlines a dire need for targeted analysis as well as specific resourcing and interventions to close the gap for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples.’

‘We know that the absence of culture, family stability, education and employment can lead to overrepresentation of our community in the justice system. However, by specifically focussing on justice targets, we can begin to look at specific policing and legal practices that can magnify these issues for Aboriginal people when they interact with the law’ Meena said. ‘Anyone who has a role in working with Aboriginal people in the legal assistance sector can have a role in closing the gap.’

The submission also recognised that the legal system is not culturally neutral and suggests better inclusion and engagement with ATSI culture and traditions. It recommends that the Closing the Gap framework support appropriate levels of funding for specialised culturally safe legal assistance services that meet the needs of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples and influence changes to state and territory legislation and practices by incentivising the introduction of key law reforms and practices.

The NLA joint submission contains practical, evidence based and rational suggestions to be considered as part of a revamped and more effective Closing the Gap framework.   

‘The voice for positive change coming from the legal aid sector is clear, but to truly close the gap requires leadership and courage from political decision makers to support these vital reforms’ said Meena

More Information

Read National Legal Aid's submission to the Closing the Gap Refresh

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