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NT Aboriginal Justice Agency expands services

Dechlan Brennan -

The Northern Territory's leading Aboriginal justice agency has announced an expansion of their civil operations, launching a new Coronial Inquests Practice Group to meet the growing demand for services. 

The expansion for the North Australian Aboriginal Justice Agency (NAAJA) comes as the organisation sets to rebuild its reputation and services which were damaged by a series of operational and internal problems over the last six months, but which have recently resumed the intake of both youth and adult clients in Central Australia.

NAAJA’s Civil Section acting managing lawyer, Andrew Roberts, said the new practice would give the organisation room to take on new clients as well as enhancing their advocacy work. 

He noted they already played a role in Coronial Inquests in the Territory, most notably representing the interests of Aboriginal people during the Kumanjayi Walker inquest.

“The time has come, however, to establish a standalone practice dedicated to this critical work,” Mr Roberts said, “so we can provide the highest standard of culturally competent advice and representation to more families navigating this difficult process while also continuing to address the systemic issues that disproportionately affect Aboriginal people in the Territory, such as ongoing deaths in care and custody.” 

NAAJA has received additional funding to employ a practice group lead (consultant senior lawyer) as well as senior, and two junior, lawyers to help build capacity in the new unit, arguing it will be designed to represent the interest of families participating in inquests after the deaths of a loved one. 

“It is essential that Aboriginal families have a voice in the coronial process and have a real chance to hold to account the agencies and organisations that so often fail them,” Mr Roberts said. 

NAAJA said they were also seeking to expand their mental health team by hiring both a mental health worker and an Aboriginal health worker. 

Mental Health Practice Manager, Bryce Wilson said people suffering from mental health issues often had negative results and experiences in the criminal justice system, highlighting the recent Disability Royal Commission which found people with a disability are “significantly over-represented at all stages of the criminal justice system".

Mr Wilson said NAAJA’s response as the only Territory-wide Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander-led legal service was about ensuring individuals suffering from mental health issues were given the support they needed to be removed from the criminal law system, noting they “take seriously our obligation to provide culturally responsive and therapeutic representation to our clients".

“A significant number of our clients have complex health and wellbeing needs, including mental health conditions that, if left unsupported, can get in the way of them receiving a fair and just outcome,” Mr Wilson said. 

“Being able to provide holistic legal and therapeutic representation for a vulnerable client can make all the difference.”


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