Victoria’s deputy chief magistrate says she’s never seen reciprocated respect as strong as Warrnambool’s Koori Court system.
Jelena Popovic was a special guest at the 15-year anniversary of the Warrnambool circuit Koori Court on Tuesday.
She said the circuit had made a huge difference to the city’s justice system, with the region’s indigenous crime rate at its lowest.
“The relationship between Victoria Police and other community agencies clearly has a massive impact,” she said.
“I’ve been everywhere in Victoria and I don’t see the reciprocated respect that we have here in any other region.”
In 2004 Warrnambool became the third regional centre after Shepparton and Broadmeadows to introduce a Koori Court.
The Koori courtroom invokes a less formal atmosphere than the Magistrates Court and hears lesser offences against members of the Aboriginal community, including drug and alcohol and summary offences.
The defendant, who must be pleading guilty, sits at an oval table alongside the judge, prosecutor and three Koori Elders, and together they discuss the most appropriate punishment.
Ms Popovic and Koori Court state manager Joanne Atkinson launched an honour roll for Elders and Respected Persons at the 15-year anniversary celebration.
Aunty Laura Bell, Uncle Daryl Rose and Aunty Christina Saunders were recognised for their contribution to the court following a smoking ceremony and traditional dance by the Koko Blokes.
Ms Atkinson said the Koori Court system helped Indigenous offenders feel they were being listened to and empowered to do better.
She said the courtroom was an “incredibly safe space” where a conversation was held that “touched people’s lives and addressed their underlying issues”.
Other special guests included Victoria Police Superintendent Glenn Owen and Regional Aboriginal Justice Advisory Committee (RAJAC) chief executive Allan Millar.