Access specialist courts

Why this is important

The Victorian criminal justice system has a number of specialist courts and programs that can achieve less restrictive outcomes for people with disability.

These courts have been developed in line with therapeutic jurisprudence principles and are staffed by specialist court staff, clinical teams and magistrates. They may provide a better environment for a client when mainstream sentencing courts have not been able to respond to the client’s circumstances. See, for example, Tom’s experience in the Supporting Justice Personal stories.

This page provides an overview of four specialist courts:

  • Assessment Referral Court (ARC)
  • Drug Court
  • Koori Court
  • Neighbourhood Justice Centre (NJC)

Assessment Referral Court (ARC)

Application form: ARC referral form

The ARC aims to help people address underlying factors that contribute to their offending behaviours through intensive case management and court supervision.

To access the ARC, a person must be diagnosed with one or more of the following:

  • Acquired brain injury
  • Autism spectrum disorder
  • Intellectual disability
  • Mental illness
  • Neurological impairment, including but not limited to dementia

In order to access the ARC, an accused person must be pleading guilty to charges capable of being heard in the Magistrates’ Court.

ARC participants are assigned a court-based clinician who works with the individual to develop a support plan with goals. ARC participants return regularly before the same magistrate to discuss their progress on achieving their goals.

A person’s participation in the support plan is taken into account at sentencing, which occurs at the end of the ARC process. If someone doesn’t comply with their individual support plan, the magistrate can transfer the matter to the mainstream court for sentencing.

For information on contacting the ARC see Specialist courts.

Victoria Legal Aid (VLA) funding for ARC

There is a grant available through VLA for clients in the ARC list.

Drug Court

The Drug Court administers Drug Treatment Orders (DTOs). A person sentenced to a DTO is supervised by the Drug Court and must appear before the Drug Court Magistrate regularly. The Magistrate monitors their compliance with the treatment conditions of their order.
DTOs are only available for people who can be sentenced in the Magistrates' Court.

A DTO consists of two parts:

  1. Therapeutic conditions. A DTO participant is supervised by Corrections staff and required to take part in intensive drug treatment (including testing).
  2. A custodial sentence (term of imprisonment) of no more than two years. This custodial sentence is only triggered if the participant fails to comply with the therapeutic conditions.

DTO participants are required to:

  • Attend regular appointments at the Drug Court
  • Routinely submit to supervised drug and / or alcohol testing
  • Appear regularly before the Drug Court magistrate
  • Accept drug and/or alcohol, medical, psychiatric or psychological assessment and treatment
  • Attend educational, vocational, employment or other programs
  • Comply with conditions of the DTO, including curfews and restrictions on where they can live.

The DTO is based around rewards and sanctions. If a participant fails to comply with DTO conditions they will receive sanctions. If a participant receives too many sanctions, they will have to serve a short period of imprisonment.

If a DTO participant does not comply with their order conditions or regularly receives too many sanctions, Corrections or Victoria Police can make an application to cancel their DTO (triggering the custodial sentence).

On the other hand, if a DTO participant consistently complies and engages with the program, they will be graduated to less restrictive levels of supervision. If a participant completes the two years they will 'graduate' from the DTO in a ceremony in the Drug Court.

For information on contacting the Drug Court see Specialist courts.

Koori Court

Application form: Koori Court Certificate of Readiness

The Koori Court is a sentencing court available in the Magistrates', County and Children's Courts.

The Court incorporates Aboriginal Elders into the sentencing hearing and aims to provide a culturally safe court experience.

The Court conducts hearings in an informal manner. The Magistrate or Judge will sit at the bar table with two Aboriginal Elders, a Koori Court worker, Corrections Prosecutor, Victoria Police Prosecutor or Office of Public Prosecutions (OPP) Prosecutor, the lawyer and the client.

Before the hearing, a Koori Court worker will speak with the defence lawyer and client directly to collect specific details about the client’s family background, cultural ties and community supports. The hearing maintains the formal structure of a plea hearing with the prosecutor reading a summary of the offending and the lawyer making submissions. Each party at the bar table, including the accused person, is then given an opportunity to address the offending before the sentence is imposed by the Magistrate.

While the Elders do not have the power to impose a sentence, they can give advice to the Magistrate on culturally appropriate options.

For information on contacting the Koori Court see Specialist courts.

Neighbourhood Justice Centre (NJC)

The NJC is the only community justice centre in Victoria. Located in Collingwood, the NJC provides integrated services to people facing criminal charges to address the underlying reasons for their contact with the criminal justice system.

The NJC has a number of organisations located on the same site to provide services to people with matters at the court. Services available at the NJC include:

  • alcohol and other drug counselling
  • financial counselling
  • housing services
  • legal and victim support services
  • mental health services.

People who live in the City of Yarra are eligible to have their Magistrates' Court matters heard at the NJC and access the court’s services.

For information on contacting the NJC see Specialist courts.

Supporting Justice

Supporting Justice © Centre for Innovative Justice, RMIT University, 2019

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We acknowledge the Traditional Owners on whose land we meet, share and work. We pay our respects to Elders past and present, and extend our respect to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people from all nations of this land.