This court is for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander offenders who plead guilty.
Following advice from the federal and state governments regarding the coronavirus (COVID-19), the County Court has suspended all County Koori Court hearings until further notice.
Established in 2008 as part of the County Court Victoria jurisdiction, the County Koori Court is the first sentencing court for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander offenders in the higher jurisdiction in Australia. It follows the successful Koori Court model introduced at the Magistrates’ and Children’s Courts and sits at Latrobe Valley, Melbourne, Mildura, Shepparton and Warrnambool.
Aboriginal elders or respected persons advise the Judge on cultural issues relating to the accused and his or her offending behaviour. Their voices are a powerful cultural feature and send a clear message to the accused the offences are not condoned by Koori or non-Koori communities.
Elders and respected persons provide information on the background of the accused and possible reasons for offending behaviour. They may also explain relevant kinship connections, how particular crimes have affected the Indigenous community and provide advice on cultural practices, protocols and perspectives relevant to sentencing.
Indigenous accused must elect to go to Koori Court, consent to the jurisdiction and plead guilty. The plea hearing is conducted in three stages:
Formal arraignment: guilty pleas may be entered at the initial Directions Hearing or on the plea date in the County Koori Court. Arraignment proceeds before the judge alone.
Sentencing conversation: this procedure is different from the usual plea hearing. It is conducted in a specially designated courtroom with as little formality as possible. Participants talk in plain English, rather than using technical legal language.
The conversation begins with an acknowledgement of country and the judge explains to the accused that the court respects Aboriginal people and culture and that the room has been smoked.
The judge, elders and respected persons, the accused, the legal practitioner for the accused, prosecutor, Koori Court officer, corrections officer and the family/support of the accused sit around a table. All participants are introduced and explain their role. The participants discuss the offending behaviour.
Formal sentence: the usual sentencing procedures are followed. The procedure is formal with the Judge sitting alone at the bench to deliver the sentence. This process reinforces to the accused and other participants that the judge is the ultimate decision-maker. Sentencing can often occur on another day, depending on the complexities of the case.
The County Koori Court cannot hear sexual offences. Offences that involve family violence or a breach of an intervention order or interim intervention order can only be heard at the County Koori Court sitting at Mildura.
The accused must be an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander person to come before the County Koori Court.
An Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander person is someone who: