Michael and Mark spent their week-long Justice Journey learning about diversionary courts and therapeutic justice.
“We felt extremely privileged to be among the first members of the public to witness the Drug and Alcohol Court in use. “
We were introduced to Bret and Will from the Department of Justice and Attorney-General (DJAG), who manage QDAC’s daily operations. They explained the concept of therapeutic jurisprudence and the strict eligibility requirements for a person to be able to be sentenced to a two-year treatment order with QDAC.
We witnessed a court session where a man who had been in and out of prison his entire life became the first offender to pass all eligibility and suitability criteria for QDAC since its reopening.
The man had left home aged 11, and without family support was left to make his way through life on his own. Needless to say, he had gravitated to substance abuse and opportunities to escape this way of life became fewer.
When the magistrate informed the man he could begin his two-year treatment order, there was genuine excitement from the QDAC team. The occasion was topped off with a celebratory photograph of the QDAC team, presiding magistrate, and the now emotional man—who saw QDAC as a pathway to end his offending.
Four other agencies are involved at QDAC. Teams from Queensland Police Service, Queensland Correctional Services, and Queensland Heath are situated together in an open office on the same floor. Yes, strange bedfellows. The other agency involved is Legal Aid Queensland (LAQ), located in a separate building to maintain their legal independence, but equally involved in the offender’s treatment and progress.
We had heard that information sharing can sometimes be challenging in government, and often hinders inter-agency cooperation. But QDAC overcomes that and we were able to see how well the teams work together.
Despite working closely and operating out of a single location, we were surprised to learn each team is still expected to maintain their traditional roles and are still bound by the codes and ethics of their field.
For example, James (a clinical psychologist) explained that the Queensland Health team must not share specific details of an offender’s treatment with the court because it would breach confidentiality. However, the team works cohesively to work towards the common goal of reducing future contact the participant may have with the criminal justice system.
Michael at the Murri court
The Queensland Murri Court was set up to provide a better understanding of the cultural challenges Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people face in the criminal justice system.
A key component of the Murri Court is the involvement of community elders in the court’s process. On the Wednesday, the Elder for the day’s hearings was Aunty Theresa—a respected woman with strong ties to the Aboriginal community. Before court began for the day, we attended a meeting between Aunty Theresa, the Murri Court facilitators and their magistrate where they reviewed each case that would be heard that day.
It was a surprise to learn that participation in Murri Court is voluntary. Aunty Theresa explained many Aboriginal people choose not to have their case heard in a Murri Court due to her harsh treatment of participants if they do not follow the rules of Murri Court.
We witnessed this during hearings where several participants were scolded for missing court appearances or for not engaging in services. Participants who were complying with the court’s process or making attempts to improve their circumstance received praise from Aunty Theresa and the presiding magistrate.
In the Murri Court, the Magistrate sits at the bar (the table that the lawyers sit at) rather than at the Bench as in other Courts. This reflects Indigenous traditional justice system. As it was explained, Lore in contrast to Law. It was a humbling experience witnessing the two systems of law work together.
Our final two days were spent learning about the new Court Link program—an innovative 12-week voluntary bail-based program aimed at addressing the underlying reasons why people offend. Offenders who may be eligible for Court Link include people suffering from substance dependency, homelessness or mental illness.
We learned Court Link is staffed by a team of case managers who create support plans for offenders. We attended a team meeting which provided insight into the complexities of case managing a group of offenders with vastly different backgrounds and offending behaviours. Highlights included shadowing case manager Jolene to the Roma Street Watch House to see how participants are triaged; and attending a Court Link court hearing.
Michael, DJAG Director-General David Mackie, fellow
Justice Journeys student Meem and Mark
Life doesn’t deal out opportunities equitably. On this journey, I have witnessed people being built up and restored. I would encourage anyone who views these programs as a soft touch to ask themselves ‘what if it was my child?’ What would we want for them?
I began my law degree with the intention of helping people get access to justice. This week has opened my eyes to the many and diverse opportunities to be involved in this area of justice. Working in Legal Aid or the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Service is now something that I will aim for.
Many of these programs are unknown to the public. As an outsider with an interest in the criminal justice sector, I learned great leaps have been taken in recent years to improve outcomes in the criminal justice system using the principles of therapeutic jurisprudence.
To students interested in working within the criminal justice field, I would thoroughly recommend applying for the Justice Journeys program.
While learning in your classroom environment will help you to master the theoretical underpinnings and build foundational knowledge of key concepts, being placed into a practical setting will allow you to witness first-hand these being applied to real-world cases with real-world people.