First Peoples tell truth about child protection and criminal justice at Yoo-rrook hearings.
The Yoo-rrook Justice Commission commenced two weeks of public hearings this week as part of its inquiry into the systemic injustices experienced by First Peoples within Victoria’s child protection and criminal justice systems.
From March 1, Yoo-rrook Commissioners heard from First Peoples including parents whose children have been removed, carers and members of the Stolen Generations as part of their inquiry into the child protection system.
Fiona McLeod AO SC opening remarks were, “Today Yoo-rrook resumes its hearings and continues its focus on the Child Protection and Criminal Justice systems.
• As you noted, Chair, the focus over the next week and a half is on hearing the personal stories and truths of First Peoples individuals and families that have been through or had to deal with these systems. We expect that this will, at times, be difficult evidence to hear, and for the individual witnesses it can be a very traumatic experience to talk about these issues.
• We are deeply grateful to each individual giving evidence – and recognise their role in helping Yoo-rrook to understand the effects of these systems. We thank you them for their courage and willingness to stand up and tell their story and contribute their voices to a growing evidence base, necessary to inform findings and recommendations for future change.
• We also recognise that there are individuals and community members that have contributed their stories via equally important means –
o participation in round tables; o Commissioners’ recent prison visits; o Submissions; and o Working with the Solicitor Assisting team to prepare outlines of evidence that will be tendered throughout this hearing block. • While there is clear cross-over between community experiences with the Child Protection and Criminal Justice systems (and a number of witnesses will speak to both systems), in general terms this week we will be hearing primarily from witnesses that have lived experience of the Child Protection system, and next week the focus will be on witnesses with lived experiences of the Criminal Justice system. • Yoo-rrook will be taking the evidence sensitively with breaks as necessary, and Social and Emotional Wellbeing supports on site.
• Given the sensitivities of their evidence, and some of the legal restrictions around hearing evidence involving children, parts of the hearings will be heard as closed sessions and we will be seeking sensitivity orders to redact certain identifying information. This is to protect the children involved and their families. • We note that, for media watching, there is a media guideline that has been published on Yoo-rrook's website to assist you in navigating the legal framework relevant to media reporting on these issues.” Fiona McLeod AO SC.
These hearing have been dealt with sensitivity and respect with families, individuals, Indigenous Organisations and groups sharing their stories in a full truth telling way.
The second week, commencing March 6, will centre on Victoria’s criminal justice system, including the need to reform bail laws to stop people being unnecessarily imprisoned in pre-trial detention, the age of criminal responsibility, and police accountability systems. The Commission will hear evidence from First Peoples who have been involved in the adult and youth criminal justice systems and their families, as well as advocates and experts.
Both weeks will examine the push for genuine self-determination and ways to address systemic injustice in the child protection and criminal justice systems.
Chair of the Yoorrook Justice Commission, Professor Eleanor Bourke said: “First Peoples are grossly over-represented within both the child protection and criminal justice systems in Victoria.
“In December, the Commission heard from numerous Aboriginal leaders and experts who all told Yoorrook that these systems are broken and need to be fixed.
“In this hearing block, we will hear from First Peoples who have personally experienced these systems or seen family members go through them. We will hear about the human toll of systemic injustice, and the enduring impact this has on individuals, their families and Community more broadly.
“Each witness will put their story on the public record forever, and in turn, help Yoorrook to build the evidence we need to make strong recommendations to government to right the wrongs of the past and build a better future for all Victorians.”
Yoorrook is scheduled to hold a further round of hearings on the same issues from March 21 to 31, with representatives from the Victorian Government set to give evidence. All First Peoples can continue to tell their truth about any ongoing or historic systemic injustice affecting First Peoples in Victoria by making a submission through Yoorrook’s online submission portal.
First Peoples are encouraged to make submissions in any form they wish, including audio or video recorded submissions, artwork, or recordings of song or dance in addition to written submissions.
Free, confidential, and safe social and emotional wellbeing support and legal advice is available for all First Peoples wishing to tell their truth to Yoorrook.
On Monday, the Yoorrook Justice Commission hearings will shift focus from the child protection system to injustices experienced by First Peoples in Victoria’s justice system.
Across the two-week hearing block, about 20 First Peoples witnesses will give evidence including those who have experienced systemic injustice themselves, individuals speaking on behalf of family, experts and community leaders.
Witnesses are expected to give evidence about the push to reform Victoria’s bail laws to stop people being unnecessarily imprisoned in pre-trial detention, Victoria’s low age of criminal responsibility, and police accountability and oversight.
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