About the Centre's court

 

The Neighbourhood Justice Centre’s multijurisdictional court hears matters from the Magistrates’ Court, Children’s Court, and is the venue for the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal and the Victims of Crime Tribunal.

 

Our court focus on rehabilitation, with people who come before it referred to the Centre’s onsite services to treat the underlying conditions to reduce recidivism and support their reintegration into the community.

 

Authorising environment and jurisdiction

 

The Centre’s authorising environment is the Courts Legislation (Neighbourhood Justice Centre) Act 2006 (the Act), and the NJC is part of the Specialist Courts Division of the Magistrates’ Courts of Victoria.

 

As per s4O of the Act, the court’s jurisdiction is restricted to people who:

  • live in the City of Yarra municipality
  • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders (ATSI), who have a close connection to the area
  • Experiencing homelessness and alleged to have committed an offence in the municipality

 

A “homeless person” is defined under s3 of the Act to include those in crisis, transitional or supported accommodation.  

 

While the court does not hear committals or sexual offences [ s4O(4)], civil proceedings and family violence fall within the court’s jurisdiction, with similar requirements as to residents, ATSI and homeless persons connection with the area [ s4O(2)(b)].

 

Improving participation

 

The NJC is legislated to provide simplified access to the justice and apply the philosophies of therapeutic jurisprudence (TJ) and restorative justice (RJ) to the administration of justice, both of which permeate every aspect of the NJC’s court.

 

The Chief Magistrate is limited in the choice of whom to assign to preside over court. Under s4M of the Act, those appointed to this court must have knowledge or experience of TJ and RJ.

 

The court is also required to exercise its jurisdiction with as little formality and technicality as possible [s4M(3)] and be conducted in a way that is comprehensible to all parties [s4M(7)], practices substantiated by research that shows people are more likely to comply with court orders when they feel their voice is heard by the court and they have been treated with dignity. [1]

 

These provisions assist people who come before our court to participate as fully as possible in their matter, and reflects the TJ philosophy improving procedural justice more broadly.

 

Sentencing 

In making sentencing decisions, an NJC magistrate may inform themselves in any way they see fit and may hear from when considering which sentencing order to make, subject to the rules of natural justice. This includes hearing from persons such as the Neighbourhood Justice Officer, health service providers and community service providers. [s4Q(2)]

 

Supporting sentencing, the court draws on a range of onsite treatment and support services, including as mental health, drug and alcohol, employment, financial counselling, and housing support.

 

Deferred sentencing

 

Under section 4Q(3) the court can defer sentencing an adult offender, irrespective of the person's age.

 

While the mainstream Magistrates' Court may defer sentencing an offender aged 18 years or more but under 25 years of age. The NJC can defer sentencing even if an offender is of or over 25 years of age.

 

Lawyers and restoration

 

Criminal lawyers working at the NJC are a key part of its therapeutic and restorative work.

 

Lawyers work closely with the onsite services, collocated Police Prosecutions, and correctional services teams to identify and address the underlying conditions that contribute to their clients’ offending behaviour. 

 

Working in a more informal setting requires lawyers to encourage their clients to participate in their hearing, and motive their clients to engage in treatment programs.

 

Conversely, lawyers are often the front line for identifying when their clients are at risk of disengaging with services and falling back into patterns of harmful and offending behaviour.

 

Victim restoration

 

Under s4Q(2)(f) of the Act, there is provision for the court to hear directly from the victim.  As such, the offender has the opportunity to apologise to the victim, such as during a group conference within the Children’s Court, or as part of a diversion or sentencing decision.

 

[1] Arie Frieberg, “Therapeutic jurisprudence in Australia: Paradigm shift or pragmatic incrementalism?” (2003)

[2] Bruce Winick and David Wexler (eds), Judging in a Therapeutic Key, 2003, Carolina Press, p7.