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Aboriginal Law Bulletin

Aboriginal Law Bulletin (ALB)
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Nettheim, Garth --- "Book Review - Aboriginal Human Rights, the Criminal Justice System and the Search for Solutions: A Case for Self-Determination" [1993] AboriginalLawB 62; (1993) 3(65) Aboriginal Law Bulletin 15

Book Review -

Aboriginal Human Rights, the Criminal Justice System and the Search for Solutions:
A Case for Self-Determination

by Luke McNamara

Discussion Paper No.19 (July 1993)

North Australia Research Unit, ANU, Darwin

Reviewed by Garth Nettheim

The author states as his thesis that "the basis of the various forms of human rights abuse which occur in the context of Aboriginal involvement with the criminal justice system, and with the agencies of government regulation more generally, is the historical and continuing reality that the dominant 'system' (encompassing procedural, substantive and other social/political factors) is an imposed system of domination and control which is essentially inappropriate for, and in practice, discriminatory towards Australia's Aboriginal population"(p2).

The paper briefly surveys the massive overrepresentation of Aboriginal people in the criminal justice system, and proceeds to "an analysis of the largely misdirected and ineffective attempts to identify and 'solve' the problem, with which non-Aboriginal Australia has experimented in recent decades"(p3). The recommendations of the Australian Law Reform Commission in this area are described as disappointing. In particular, the author considers that proposals for community justice mechanisms merited stronger support, notably the'Yirrkala scheme'.

The Report of the Royal Commission Into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody stressed the central importance of self-determination in solving the "underlying issues" but failed adequately to relate its understanding of the concept to international human rights standards - "indicative of the tendency to treat political autonomy and justice reform as if they were unrelated issues" (p32). Here, says the author, the answer must lie - to empower Aboriginal communities to take control of justice mechanisms for themselves instead of continuing as perpetual victims of an imposed and alien criminal justice system.

The paper is strongly recommended for those concerned with criminal justice issues and issues of indigenous self-determination.

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