One-stop justice plan breaks down the borders

One-stop justice plan breaks down the borders

14th Mar 2024

I recently wrote to ACT Attorney-General Shane Rattenbury and Minister for Corrections Emma Davidson to ask them to consider developing  a cross-border justice agreement with the NSW Government.

The agreement would be aimed at addressing the often negative consequences that flow from the trial and sentencing of a person in either the ACT or NSW when that person has an outstanding warrant in the other jurisdiction.

Unfortunately, it’s not uncommon for a person tried in the ACT or, say, across the border in Queanbeyan, to have an outstanding warrant for their arrest in the other jurisdiction.

If that person is found guilty and imprisoned in the jurisdiction in which they were first tried, then the current practice is that on completion of that sentence they are arrested at the prison gate and taken to court, where an extradition order is sought. 

Once a court in the relevant jurisdiction grants the extradition order the detainee is taken across the border to face trial.

It’s not unusual, of course, for the detained person to be sentenced to a further period of imprisonment.

I am not suggesting that an offender caught up in such a situation should not be subject to the law. But I am concerned that a prisoner – in for example the Alexander Maconochie Centre  (AMC) – who knows full well that upon their release from prison they’ll be extradited to a jail in NSW to await trial on the outstanding warrant, will be far less likely to participate in training, education or behavioural programs offered in the AMC.

I am also mindful of the cost implications these arrangements pose for the respective ACT and NSW police forces and court systems.

However, I think it is simply unarguable that a detainee, facing the certainty of further imprisonment in another jurisdiction, will not be as invested in or inclined to engage in prison programs designed to ensure that they not reoffend, and which otherwise assist their rehabilitation and successful re-entry into the community.

I have been encouraged to pursue these reforms by the precedent that the NT, WA and SA have set through the Cross Border Justice Scheme, which has operated for several years in a large region of central Australia encompassing land in each of the three jurisdictions. 

The Cross Border Justice Scheme in effect removes the state and territory borders within the designated area in order to improve law enforcement and the administration of justice more broadly, in each of the three jurisdictions.

This means, for example, that police, judges, fine-enforcement agencies, community corrections officers and prisons can deal with offences that may have occurred in another state or the NT. 

The scheme applies to anyone who is suspected, alleged or found to have committed an offence in the cross-border region or who is arrested in the region or usually lives in that region at the time of the offence or when they were arrested. This also means that an offender is not able to cross the border to escape justice.

It is pertinent, in considering whether a scheme such as this would enhance the administration of justice in Canberra, to be mindful that not only does the ACT have the highest rate of incarceration of Aboriginal men and women in Australia, but that it also has the highest Aboriginal recidivism rate. 

In other words, it is clear that the current response of the ACT Government to Aboriginal offending and contact with the justice system is not only failing, but is the worst in Australia and shows no sign of improving.

In light of this, I commend the Cross Border Justice Scheme operating across borders in central Australia to the ACT Government and urge it to pursue with NSW the adoption of a similar scheme.

The ALA thanks Julie Tongs for this article

Julie Tongs OAM is a strong proud Wiradjuri woman and has been the Chief Executive Officer of Winnunga Nimmityjah Aboriginal Health and Community Services since 1997. Julie has more than 40 years’ experience working in Aboriginal affairs and in advising, formulating, implementing and evaluating public health initiatives, programs and policy at a local, regional and national level. Julie has been awarded the ACT Governor General's Centenary Medal; ACT Indigenous Person of the Year; ACT Person of the Year for NAIDOC 2018;  ACT Local Hero Award in 2011 within the Australian of the Year Awards 2012; and in 2012,  the Medal of the Order of Australia.


This is an edited version of an article first published by Canberra CityNews

The views and opinions expressed in this article are the author’s and do not necessarily represent the views and opinions of the Australian Lawyers Alliance (ALA).

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Tags: NSW ACT Indigenous justice Cross-border justice Julie Tongs OAM