Court' in the System: The Impact of the Circuiting Bush Court Upon Criminal Justice Administration and Domestic Violence Prosecution in Aboriginal Communities


Aboriginal Legal Service defence lawyers face uniquely challenging conditions when the Magistrates Court intermittently circuits remote Aboriginal communities and isolated towns in Northern Australia. Based on the findings of research conducted by the author who attended eight Bush Courts over a six month period beginning in July 2000, this article describes the impact on justice delivery by Bush Courts of oppressive caseloads, the difficulty of taking sufficient instructions from clients, and the pressure on defence counsel to settle contested matters without a hearing. The article then describes the impact of these factors, combined with the sparse distribution of women’s legal assistance and other obstacles, on domestic violence and violence against women cases in the Bush Court. The outcome seems to be that the victim is left unrepresented, a deplorable situation given that the NT has the highest rate of sexual and physical violence against women in Australia. The organisation of the Bush Courts must be reformed if Aboriginal offenders coming before these courts are to receive a fair trial and if victims’ interests are to be better served.

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