Research Professor fighting to keep Indigenous Courts in the system

Elena Marchetti hopes her research will help to make Indigenous Courts permanent in Australia

Elena Marchetti has a passion for research.

It’s a passion that has led her from teaching at Griffith University to her current position as Research Professor in the University of Wollongong’s Faculty of Law.

Elena’s dedication to her work is clear as she tells me about her latest project.

“I’m looking at whether having a culturally focused and informal justice process is more appropriate for Indigenous offenders and victims,” she explained.

Elena was awarded a five year Australian Research Council Fellowship in 2009 to research the impact of Indigenous and Family Violence Courts on the sentencing of Indigenous partner violence. Also known as ‘Circle Courts’, the Indigenous Sentencing Courts are an alternative to mainstream courts and allow elders, community groups and victims to be involved in the sentencing process.

She anticipates that the conclusions she reaches by the end of the project will be used to improve the court system.

“I’m hoping my research will contribute to specialty programs  becoming permanent features of the court system,” she said.

A dedicated student, Elena completed her Masters of Law at the University of Queensland and went on to do her PhD at the University of Griffith on the topic of how the Australian Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody considered women in their research.

Elena says it was while she was completing her PhD that she gained the motivation to apply for the Research Fellowship.

“A couple of years into my PhD they set up the first Indigenous sentencing court,” she said.

“I was talking to one of the Magistrates from Mt Isa about how he wanted to set up an Indigenous family violence court there.”

“I found the level of contrast between the Victorian and Queensland Indigenous Sentencing Courts interesting.”

One of the main contrasts, and the one which led her to focus on partner violence in the courts, is that family violence offences can be heard in all jurisdictions with Indigenous Sentencing Courts except Victoria.

The frustration in Elena’s voice is evident when she tells me that the Queensland government will no longer be funding Indigenous courts after December as they are cutting funding for all specialist courts in the State.

“This is ridiculous because the mainstream system doesn’t tailor to disadvantaged groups.”

“The courts save the government money in the long run as keeping just a few offenders out of the prison system will mean they can return to the workforce sooner.”

When I asked her what she liked the most about her job Elena was surprisingly hesitant compared to how confident she had been when speaking about the project.

“I guess research is great because you get the chance to do really interesting work,” she said.

“But there have been times when I thought I couldn’t keep researching and wished I could go back to teaching.”

“Just getting government access to conduct interviews has taken time. They get concerned about privacy issues and with the change of government in Queensland I had to wait nearly two years before I was given the names of victims and offenders.”

What motivated her to keep going?

“With a project like this you just can’t give up,” she said.

 

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