One venue, multiple courts
The Neighbourhood Justice Centre’s multijurisdictional court hears matters from the Magistrates’ Court, Children’s Court, and is the venue for the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal and the Victims of Crime Tribunal.
Our court focuses on rehabilitation, with clients referred to the Centre’s onsite services to treat the underlying conditions that typically accompany offending, from drug dependency, to homelessness, mental health issues, and long-term traumas. Getting people back on their feet contributes to overall public safety.
Authorising environment and jurisdiction
The Centre’s authorising environment is the Courts Legislation (Neighbourhood Justice Centre) Act 2006 (the Act), and the NJC is part of the Specialist Courts Division of the Magistrates’ Courts of Victoria.
As per s4O of the Act, the court’s jurisdiction is restricted to people who:
- live in the City of Yarra municipality
- Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders (ATSI), who have a close connection to the area
- Experiencing homelessness and alleged to have committed an offence in the municipality
A “homeless person” is defined under s3 of the Act to include those in crisis, transitional or supported accommodation.
While the court does not hear committals or sexual offences [ s4O(4)], civil proceedings and family violence fall within the court’s jurisdiction, with similar requirements as to residents, ATSI and homeless persons connection with the area [ s4O(2)(b)].
The NJC is legislated to provide simplified access to justice and apply the philosophies of therapeutic jurisprudence (TJ) and restorative justice (RJ) to the administration of justice, both of which permeate every aspect of the NJC’s court.
Under s4M of the Act, the Chief Magistrate must appoint a Magistate who has knowledge or experience of TJ and RJ.
The court is also required to exercise its jurisdiction with as little formality and technicality as possible [s4M(3)] and to be conducted in a way that is comprehensible to all parties [s4M(7)].
All of this provisions combine to assist people participate as fully as possible in their matter, which as studies show, improves compliance with court orders, and improves trust in the justice process.
In making sentencing decisions, an NJC magistrate may inform themselves in any way they see fit and may hear from when considering which sentencing order to make, subject to the rules of natural justice. This includes hearing from persons such as the Neighbourhood Justice Officer, health service providers and community service providers. [s4Q(2)]
Supporting sentencing, the court draws on a range of onsite treatment and support services, including as mental health, drug and alcohol, employment, financial counselling, and housing support.
Our court can defer sentencing for 12 months for offenders aged 18 years and over ― section 4Q(3). Other Victorian courts can only do so for people aged 18 to 25.
Sentences are deferred to give offender time to address underlying conditions of offending such as drug addiction and their progress is taken into account when sentencing. We attribute our higher rates of sentencing compliance and lower recidivism rates to our ability to extend the benefits of this practices to a greater number of people, many of whom are high risk and need as much help as possible.
During the course of a community corrections orders (CCO) the NJC's court will conduct Judicial Monitoring meeting.
This is a meeting at which the Magistrate and client review the client’s progress, personal circumstances, and compliance with the condition of the order.
If the client is progressing well, the Magistrate takes the opportunity to provide words of encouragement.
Conversely, the Magistrate can refer the client to additional support such as the Problem Solving Process if circumstances in the person's life need to be addressed.
Judicial Monitoring typically occurs frequently in the early stages of a CCO, and taper off as the client continues to comply with the conditions of the order.
The process is an important component in NJC's collaborative approach to lowing recidivism rates and improving public safety.
Lawyers and restoration
Criminal lawyers working at the NJC are a key part of its therapeutic and restorative work.
Lawyers work closely with the onsite services, collocated Police Prosecutions, and correctional services teams to identify and address the underlying conditions that contribute to their clients’ offending behaviour.
Working in a more informal setting requires lawyers to encourage their clients to participate in their hearing, and motive their clients to engage in treatment programs.
Conversely, lawyers are often the front line for identifying when their clients are at risk of disengaging with services and falling back into patterns of harmful and offending behaviour.
Under s4Q(2)(f) of the Act, there is provision for the court to hear directly from the victim. As such, the offender has the opportunity to apologise to the victim, such as during a group conference within the Children’s Court, or as part of a diversion or sentencing decision.
 Arie Frieberg, “Therapeutic jurisprudence in Australia: Paradigm shift or pragmatic incrementalism?” (2003)
 Bruce Winick and David Wexler (eds), Judging in a Therapeutic Key, 2003, Carolina Press, p7.