Aboriginal people in Moree had the opportunity to speak with a number of legal representatives to sort out their legal issues at the NAIDOC Close the Legal Gap Day on Wednesday.
Organised by the Department of Justice Aboriginal Services Unit, the event was an opportunity for the Aboriginal community to talk to the Legal Aid team about everything from driver disqualifications to paying fines, bills and debts.
A big focus of the day was to encourage Aboriginal people to enrol to vote which in turn will lead to more indigenous people being selected for jury duty.
The Australian Electoral Commission was on hand to help people enrol and promote 2019 election employment opportunities, while Lucas Swan from Swan and Associates spoke about the importance of being on the voting enrolment list and to be eligible for jury selection.
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“People are selected for jury duty via the electoral roll,” Moree Aboriginal client and community services officer Jaki French said.
“Aboriginal people are very intimidated by the jury process.
“There needs to be education out there about how people are selected; it crosses a fine line for the Aboriginal community when the question is asked of potential jury members, do they know a person. Because of the interwoven relationships in the Aboriginal community, often, Aboriginal people will say yes they know them when they only know of them.
“One of the many small ways we can start to close the justice gap is by working towards more balanced jury panels and having a fair representation of the community.”
Ms French believes the underrepresentation of the Aboriginal community on juries is an issue across the whole country, and one that could potentially underlie the high rates of incarcaration of indigenous people.
“Our people are not facing a panel of balanced peers,” she said.
“If somebody’s guilty they’re guilty, but if more Aboriginal people are on a jury, the opportunity is there to give other jury panel members insight into somebody’s cultural background and just be more representative of the country.”
Ms French said the day also aimed to highlight the fact that the courthouse is not just a place to come to attend court.
“It’s just a relaxed day,” she said.
“If you have any legal issues, it’s good to come and get them sorted while you have access to the team of experts like we have today and to access court registry services.”
Ms French thanked the Moree community for their support and wished everyone a happy NAIDOC Week.