Opening of the Northern Territory Legal Year 2020
20 February 2020
On 6 February 2020, Law Council President, Pauline Wright attended the opening of the Northern Territory legal year in Darwin where she delivered the opening address.
In her speech, Ms Wright said that a key priority for her presidency this year was to push the issues of regional Australia directly onto centre stage.
“Regional communities are where some of our most challenging legal issues lie. These challenges – like access to affordable justice and ballooning incarceration rates – are particularly relevant here in the Territory.”
“The glaring over-representation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in our jails is one of the biggest social injustices in Australia. It should, frankly, be a source of shame for us all. In the Northern Territory, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples make up 84 per cent of the adult prison population."
“Across the country the statistics are just as disturbing, with Indigenous men almost 15 times more likely to be imprisoned than non-Aboriginal men. For women it’s even worse, with First Nations women around 21 times more likely to be in jail than non-Aboriginal women.”
Ms Wright also highlighted other important issues that affect regional areas of Australia like children in custody and raising the minimum age of criminal responsibility, constitutional recognition and the shortage of regional lawyers.
“Annually, there are 600 children in jail across Australia aged under 14 years. In the NT nearly all detainees in juvenile detention are Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children. It’s not uncommon for them to make up 100 per cent of that statistic at any point in time.”
“Late last year the Council of Attorneys-General failed to raise the minimum age of criminal responsibility to 14.”
In December 2019, the Law Council issued a joint policy statement with the Australian Medical Association calling on all Australian governments to increase the minimum age of criminal responsibility to 14. The Law Council plans to continue advocating for this throughout 2020.
You can read Ms Wright’s full speech here.