Aboriginal customary law has been the subject of extraordinary efforts by Northern Territory and Federal politicians to exclude it from consideration in the (European) administration of criminal justice.
Despite these efforts Aboriginal people in the Northern Territory continue to practise and apply their law. Aboriginal law is, for many people in the NT, the primary governing force in their lives.
Now, against the tide of intense legislative pressure, the Supreme Court of the Northern Territory has recognised the utility of Aboriginal law.
This article was originally published in the January 2014 edition of Land Rights News (Northern Edition) by the Northern Land Council, a Commonwealth statutory authority responsible for the administration of Aboriginal land in the Top End of the Northern Territory.
The Northern Territory’s Chief Justice has enabled Aboriginal customary law to have a role in the punishment of an Aboriginal couple convicted of drug offences.
The landmark case serves to recognise the surviving reality and power of Yolngu law and its potential to coexist with mainstream legal systems. It also puts paid to the myth that customary law cannot be taken into account when Northern Territory courts sentence an Aboriginal person.