Contributed by Lorana Bartels and Anthony Hopkins. Current to November 2021.

The Warrumbul Circle Sentencing Court is a specialist Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander sentencing court that exists as part of the ACT Children’s Court (which is itself part of the Magistrates Court). It is a type of restorative practice that aims to provide culturally relevant and effective sentencing options for young Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people (10-17 years) by incorporating Elders and cultural aspects into the Children’s Court. The name ‘Warrumbul’ was gifted to the court by the United Ngunnawal Elders Council. Warrumbul means ‘youth’ in Ngunnawal language. It operates in accordance with procedures set out in the Warrumbul Court Practice Direction No 2 of 2019. The Sentencing Act continues to apply.

An offender may attend the Warrumbul Court if they meet specified eligibility criteria:
  • they identify as an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander person;
  • they have pleaded guilty to the alleged offence;
  • the offence is one which the relevant court can hear (and is not a sexual offence); and
  • they want and agree to go through the process
A referral to Warrumbul Court involves a young person undergoing a Family Conference with a panel of community Elders that will determine their suitability for circle sentencing, as well as assessing any underlying issues in the family or young person’s life that may be contributing to their offending. After the conference, the young person will either go forward to sentencing or begin a rehabilitation pathway.

A rehabilitation pathway will include the young person and their family, the Magistrate, Elders and specific government and community services designing an individualised plan. The plan will tackle any issues that are contributing to the young person’s offending behaviour or quality of life. The plans will last either 3, 6, 9 or 12 months and are likely to involve aspects of education, employment and health. Upon completion of the plan, the charges maybe dropped, or the young person will be sentenced with the completion of the plan considered as part of the sentencing process.

The Elders contribute their recommendations and cultural knowledge to the Magistrate during sentencing.

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