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Indigenous Legal Research

Cases

For detailed information about researching Australian case law, including finding all cases on a topic or legislative provision, refer to our Australian Cases, Legislation & Law Reform research guide. In addition, the following specific resources will help you research Australian Indigenous case law.

FINDING LEADING CASES ON A TOPIC

Use secondary sources such as books and commentary. For example, Native Title (in Halsbury's Laws of Australia on Lexis Advance Pacific - UniMelb staff & students) and Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders (on Westlaw AU - UniMelb staff & students) are arranged by topic. The commentary in each topic refers to significant and noteworthy cases.

FINDING ALL CASES ON INDIGENOUS ISSUES

The Indigenous Law Library on AUSTLII (open access) includes the following databases:

FINDING LEADING CASES ON LEGISLATIVE PROVISIONS

Use an Annotated Act, such as the annotated Native Title Act 1993 (Cth) in Native Title (on Lexis Advance Pacific - UniMelb staff & students). This  includes references to leading cases.

Courts dealing exclusively with Indigenous Matters

FEDERAL

The National Native Title Tribunal was established in 1994. It makes decisions, conducts inquiries, reviews and mediations, and assists parties with native title applications and Indigenous land use agreements (ILUAs)

  • Decisions of the Tribunal are available on open access on JADE (1996 to current) and AUSTLII from 1994 to current.
  • A decision of the Tribunal can be appealed on a point of law to the Federal Court of Australia (s 169(1) Native Title Act 1993 (Cth))
  • See more about the Tribunal here - including its history, development and significant cases.

STATE AND TERRITORY

Currently, Queensland, NSW, South Australia and Victoria have indigenous sentencing courts for summary offences (at the Magistrates and Children's Court levels). The Victorian County Koori Court is the only sentencing court for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander offenders in an indictable jurisdiction in Australia. Indigenous sentencing courts do not practice or adopt Indigenous customary laws: they use Australian criminal laws and procedures to sentence Indigenous offenders. However, they allow Indigenous Elders and Respected Persons to participate in the process, with the intention of creating a more culturally appropriate forum for sentencing Indigenous offenders

  • Decisions of these courts are included in databases that contain judgments of lower level courts.

For information on these courts, see for example the following open access publications:

  • 'Specialist Courts and Diversion Programs' in Incarceration Rates of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples (Discussion Paper No 84, Australian Law Reform Commission, 2017). This section discusses the Victorian Koori Courts, NSW Circle Sentencing, Queensland Murri Courts, and South Australian Nunga Courts.

  • Elena Marchetti, 'Indigenous Sentencing Courts' (Research Brief No 5, Indigenous Justice Clearinghouse, 2009). This publication includes a Table of all indigenous courts and their enabling legislation.

In addition, there are many initiatives to seek to make the court process more responsive to the needs of Indigenous participants. For example, there are Aboriginal legal and victim support services and judicial education, including judicial benchbooks, to educate judicial officers about interacting with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders in court and sentencing indigenous offenders. For more information, see for example: