On 30 July 2020 the Joint Council on Closing the Gap released the new National Agreement on Closing the Gap (CTG). That agreement includes justice targets in the CTG process for the first time. The proposed targets require a fifteen per cent reduction in the over-incarceration of First Nations people by 2031.
We urge the NSW Government to pursue the immediate establishment of the Walama Court as a keystone reform in its 12 month implementation plan for the new CTG Justice targets. The hybrid model of the Walama Court is based on sentencing practices that are proven to reduce recidivism and incarceration compared to conventional sentencing. BOCSAR has demonstrated the benefits of Circle Sentencing in NSW, and we commend the NSW Government on its expansion of the Youth Koori Court. It is time to extend and broaden this approach for First Nations men and women to reduce their over-incarceration at a rate 13.5 times higher than non-Indigenous people in New South Wales.
The Walama Court is an evidence-based model with strong support from First Nations people, the District Court, and the legal profession. It will be an Indigenous sentencing court within the District Court of NSW and will reduce the number of First Nations people in the criminal justice system by reducing recidivism and increasing compliance with court orders. The Walama Court model recognises the cultural authority of First Nations Elders and the importance of community-centred, holistic support for First Nations people.
The Department of Justice’s costings demonstrate that a Walama Court will provide a net economic benefit to the state. The Walama Court has been recommended by the NSW Ice Inquiry (2020) and the ALRC’s Pathways to Justice Report (2017). There are strong economic, social and evidence-based arguments in favour of the Walama Court.
Ngalaya recommends the NSW Government establish the Walama Court as a matter of urgency. As a collective of First Nations legal practitioners committed to empowering First Nations people, we add our voice to the chorus of support for a Walama Court. It is our view that whatever response NSW ultimately adopts to the CTG Justice targets, a Walama Court must be part of that process.