North Australian Aboriginal Justice Agency (NAJA) lawyers Holly Fitzsimmons (centre) addresses Judge Therese Austin who presides over the Wadeye Local Circuit Court at Wadeye police station and courthouse.
Northern Territory (NT) Local Circuit Courts, or 'bush courts', operate in 30 remote Aboriginal communities. The judge and the lawyers fly into each location to hold the court, dealing with a large number of cases, often over a 100, each day. Although they are based on the principle that justice should be accessible to everyone, regardless of where they reside, the 'bush courts' have been criticised as being a legacy of colonialism, under resourced, punitive and inappropriate for the communities they serve. Despite the high risk of jail time, the accused often have only a few minutes to take advice from their lawyers who are often unable to communicate with their Indigenous clients, many of whom have limited English. According to a class action lawsuit being brought against the NT government, court translation services are inadequate and often fail to keep defendants informed of the procedures during their trials, breaching a legal requirement that defendants understand what is going on at all times in the courtroom.