Applying therapeutic jurisprudence in regional areas : The Western Australian experience


Therapeutic jurisprudence asserts that court processes potentially impact participant wellbeing. Court processes developed with a view to promoting wellbeing or at least limiting any negative impact upon wellbeing can advance justice system goals linked to or dependant on wellbeing such as offender rehabilitation and healthy relationships. Such processes can also promote public confidence in the justice system. Since its inception in the late 1980s, the application of therapeutic jurisprudence has expanded from mental health law to cover diverse aspects of the law including family, criminal, and civil law. A developing area of scholarship and practice has been the relevance of therapeutic jurisprudence to judging. Judging is applied in various geographic, social, cultural and jurisdictional contexts. Regional judicial officers are faced with challenges that differ from those of their city counterparts. Regional judicial officers sit in smaller communities, may have extensive circuit commitments and may also exercise a broader jurisdiction than metropolitan judicial officers. In Australia, there is also the special situation of catering for cultural issues for its indigenous people, with remote communities in Western Australia, the Northern Territory, Queensland and South Australia maintaining their traditional approach to promoting right behaviour and maintaining order in their communities. This article asserts that differing geographic, social, cultural and jurisdictional contexts affect the manner in which therapeutic jurisprudence is applied in the judicial process. At the same time, regional judicial officers have advantages over their city cousins in the potential application of therapeutic jurisprudence in court. By way of illustration this article endeavours to show how the unique social, geographic and cultural factors confronting regional magistrates in Western Australia have shaped their application of therapeutic jurisprudence. It focuses on the regional city of Geraldton – a centre of fishing, tourism and agriculture with a significant urbanised Indigenous population and with therapeutic jurisprudence being applied across jurisdictions – and Wiluna – a remote town in the far east of Western Australia with an Aboriginal court designed to meet the needs of its more traditional Indigenous population. Reference will also be made to the Yandeyarra circle court project in the Pilbara region in the northwest of the state. The developments at Wiluna and Yandeyarra reflect a nationwide trend towards the use of court process more conducive to the cultural needs of indigenous people.

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