JOINT MEDIA RELEASE
Issued in partnership with the NSW Bar Association and Law Society of NSW
20 March 2023
The peak bodies for NSW solicitors and barristers have joined the Aboriginal Legal Service (ALS) to call for a fairer justice system in the lead-up to the state election.
CEO of the Aboriginal Legal Service (NSW/ACT) Limited Karly Warner said continued commitment to Closing the Gap is crucial and, for the program to succeed, the next NSW Government must increase funding to the Aboriginal Legal Service.
“We all want to see a legal system that actually delivers justice, and for Aboriginal people, that depends on having culturally safe legal representation,” Ms Warner said.
“While NSW has invested in the expansion of courts and positive initiatives like circle sentencing, we’ve seen little to no reciprocal investment in ALS core services. Our ability to provide legal representation was already stretched and now it’s at breaking point. The result is that Aboriginal people are still left without safe, equal access to justice,” Ms Warner said.
While Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander legal services nationwide are primarily funded through the Commonwealth, Ms Warner noted that other state governments have topped up this insufficient core funding, and NSW needs to provide more support to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
The President of the NSW Bar Association Gabrielle Bashir SC and the President of the Law Society of NSW Cassandra Banks echoed Ms Warner’s call for state funding of the ALS.
Ms Banks said there has been progress on some Closing the Gap targets in NSW, but the overrepresentation of Aboriginal adults, particularly women, in the criminal justice system continues. This is of concern, not least of all from the perspective of deaths in custody.
“We simply cannot close this gap without guaranteeing culturally effective legal support for those who find themselves in the system. The most culturally effective providers for Aboriginal people are Aboriginal community-controlled legal services,” Ms Banks said.
The Bar, Law Society and ALS each called for continued efforts to divert Aboriginal people away from imprisonment into more effective, community-based solutions.
Ms Bashir said the next NSW Government must commit to a Walama Court – not just the Walama List.
“A Walama Court would cement with committed funding the opportunity for eligible First Nations people to be sentenced in a way that involves wrap around services to target support and to reduce any prospect of reoffending,” Ms Bashir said.
“Elders and other respected community members take part in the sentencing process alongside a judge, driving home to offenders not only the harm of their actions but the right path away from crime.
“The high rates of First Nations deaths in custody remains a national disgrace and affected families need support navigating the legal system. This all means properly resourcing effective reform measures and the Aboriginal Legal Service who are on the frontline for First Nations people each and every day,” Ms Bashir said.
- Aboriginal Legal Service (NSW/ACT) Limited: Alyssa Robinson | Communications and Marketing Manager | 0427 346 017 | [email protected]
- Law Society of New South Wales: Damien Smith | Director, Media and Public Relations | 0417 788 947 | [email protected]
- NSW Bar Association: Harriet Ketley | Director, Policy and Law Reform | 0456 739 096 | [email protected]