New South Wales Attorney General Mark Speakman has announced that the Walama List pilot will start operations in February 2022 at the Sydney Downing Centre District Court.

The idea is that “eligible Aboriginal offenders” will receive a more “culturally-specific and community-based approach” to sentencing.

“Walama is a Dharug word and it means coming back and in this context it means coming to identity, community, culture and a healthy crime-free life,” the Attorney General said.

“The Walama List pilot aims to bring more community involvement into the judge’s sentencing process, building trust in the justice system and improving the diversion of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander offenders into critical support services that tackle the causes of offending behaviour.” 

Mr Speakman noted that the program will “harnesses the wisdom of Aboriginal Elders and respected community members in sentencing discussions” and will provide “wrap-around support services” alongside “intensive monitoring before sentencing.’>

 “We’re working hand-in-hand with Aboriginal communities to address the disproportionate  rates of Aboriginal incarceration, drive down reoffending and find solutions that work,” he said.

The President of the Law Society of NSW, Juliana Warner, said the Law Society backs the program.

“The Law Society believes that the Walama List pilot is an important step towards the establishment of a Walama Court,” she said.

“And will play a significant role in reducing re-offending by engaging Indigenous offenders with community-based programs that address the causes of offending.

“This is crucial if we are to address the unacceptable, long-standing issue of Indigenous over-incarceration.”

“It is a great tragedy that Indigenous people, who comprise approximately three per
cent of the Australian population, represent 25 percent of all adults in custody.”

It is reported that certain offences including prescribed sexual offences and serious violent offences will be excluded from the pilot.

If the Pilot is successful after a number of years it is hoped that it will develop into a permanent Walama Court.

Wiradjuri and Wailwan lawyer Teela Reid, has corrected miss-information that a Walama Court has been established and to be mindful there is still ways to go.

“Last week we inducted lawyers and community into the Walama list! This is set up by practice note, not legislation as proposed in the original model we worked on since 2015,” she tweeted.

“Although this is a step in the right direction, we need [NSW Government] to commit to systemic change.”

The pilot will be managed by Judge Dina Yehia SC, who has worked with the Aboriginal legal services.

By Teisha Cloos