CHAPTER SEVEN - Panels and Courts: What is Resolved?  pp. 93-114

Panels and Courts: What is Resolved?

By Fay Gale, Rebecca Bailey-Harris and Joy Wundersitz

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For a young accused person in South Australia, the final stage in the criminal justice process is either an appearance before a Children's Aid Panel or formal prosecution in the Children's Court. This chapter examines whether Aborigines suffer any disadvantage in either situation.

In doing so, it should be stressed that disadvantage to Aborigines has already occurred long before the dispositional stage is reached. The evidence for this lies in the disproportionately low numbers of Aboriginal children who are referred to Children's Aid Panels. This has important consequences for young Aborigines, because Aid Panel and Court appearances are wholly different in nature and outcome. An appearance before an Aid Panel is at once less stigmatising and more constructive, and does not involve the delays which may be attendant upon the processes which make up a Children's Court hearing. Thus a child who is sent to an Aid Panel will leave the criminal process at an earlier and lower stage than his or her counterpart who is sent to Court. By channelling such a disproportionate number of Aboriginal youth into the formal Court system, Screening Panels are effectively depriving them of the opportunity to benefit from the constructive intervention which diversion offers. To deny equitable access to this benefit is to deny social justice. By contrast, a Court appearance ensures that young Aborigines will be processed to the full extent of the law.