In an historic first, the Federal Attorney General Senator George Brandis will launch a Reconciliation Action Plan (RAP) developed by Australia’s biggest federal court in Sydney tomorrow.

The Federal Circuit Court RAP is the first to be developed by an Australian court and was initiated by the court’s Chief Judge John Pascoe AO CVO after he met with Aboriginal Elders in Dubbo in 2011 and learned that a lack of access to the justice system was common to many Aboriginal people.

Following this meeting the court established its Indigenous Access to Justice Committee set up in 2012, chaired by Cairns-based Judge Josephine Willis, which consulted with legal services working directly with the communities as well as health services, family violence prevention units and community welfare services.

The FCC RAP was warmly welcomed by Reconciliation Australia Co-Chair, Dr Tom Calma AO, who described the RAP and other FCC initiatives as “a welcome change to the Australian justice system’s historic neglect of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples”.

“The Federal Circuit Court has taken the time to widely consult with the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community and legal services in a way that I do not believe has ever happened before and the result is a document that will challenge every other court in the land to emulate it,” said Dr Calma. “As a long advocate and campaigner against the distressingly high incarceration rates of my people I am heartened by the actions of the Court and confident that the RAP will make a difference.

“Recent ABS figures showing a 12% increase over the past year in the incarceration of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women shows just how urgent the actions, responsibilities, timelines and objectives set out in this document are,” he said. “Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and legal services will certainly be heartened by the actions of the FCC.”

Chief Judge John Pascoe said the RAP was part of the Federal Circuit Court’s ongoing efforts to ensure equitable access for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people by adopting real and practical measures to achieve reconciliation.

“Entering into a Reconciliation Plan with Reconciliation Australia is a significant achievement for the Federal Circuit Court of Australia and an historical moment in Australia’s reconciliation with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples.

“My hope is that the launch of this plan will demonstrate to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people that they can approach the Court with confidence, and that it is attuned to their needs, particularly in family law proceedings.

“I also have great hope that this initiative will pave the way for courts across Australia to question what part they can play in reconciliation,” said Chief Judge Pascoe.

Federal Circuit Court Judge and the only Aboriginal man to sit on a federal court bench, Judge Matthew Myers AM said the new RAP is a significant achievement for the Federal Circuit Court of Australia and an historical moment in Australia’s reconciliation with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples.

“This act of reconciliation is one that brings Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and other Australians together in a meaningful way to overcome divisions and inequality in health, life-expectancy, literacy, numeracy, income, incarceration rates and general living standards,” said Judge Myers.

The launch of the Federal Circuit Court’s Reconciliation Action Plan will take place at the National Centre for Indigenous Excellence 31 March 2014 12pm-2pm.

Media representatives are invited to attend by pre-arrangement.

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