I was lucky enough to be placed at the Local Court of the Northern Territory (LCNT) during the 2019 summer round of the Aurora Internship Program. I was supervised by Chief Judge Dr John Lowndes and his Executive Assistant, Christina Ashton, who were extremely supportive and welcoming. Being placed at the LCNT was a unique opportunity to see the inner workings of the justice system. In particular, I was able to observe how access to justice issues affect many Aboriginal people in the Northern Territory. I was unfamiliar with many of the mandatory sentencing provisions coming from Victoria and as such, it was eye-opening to see how they impacted judicial discretion in sentencing.
I was placed in judges’ chambers during my internship, which allowed me to discuss matters with Chief Judge Lowndes and ask specific questions relating to the matters that his Honour was presiding over. It was great to hear first-hand how the Chief Judge dealt with the day to day functioning of the court and exposed me to the many competing interests and commitments his Honour had to balance and juggle outside of the courtroom. The other judges were also very welcoming and happy to share their experiences. I completed engaging research tasks, including one about the Mental Health List presided over by the Chief Judge and another relating to criminal provisions dealing with culpability for dangerous driving. These tasks enabled me to expand my legal research skills and tailor them to deliver clear and concise information. I also observed many different courtrooms and lists, which gave me practical exposure to civil and criminal procedure and enabled me to identify effective advocacy styles.
I was fortunate enough to attend circuit court to Jabiru and Oenpelli (Gunbalanya) for three days. Being in community in West Arnhem Land was a privilege. We travelled in a small plane as the roads were flooded due to the wet season, which was a surreal experience, however it simultaneously highlighted an access to justice issue that many Aboriginal people in remote communities must face. Some of the courts in community are inaccessible by car in the wet season and thus can be extremely expensive to access via plane, resulting in non-attendance and warrants being put out for arrest. Despite this, attending circuit court was a great opportunity to see how sentencing can be tailored to each community, ensuring that rehabilitation is localised to prioritise long-term, positive outcomes.
I also had an opportunity to go to Injalak Arts in Gunbalanya, a non-profit Aboriginal-owned social enterprise. It was great to speak to the artists working at the centre about their weaving and painting methods, including the stories they are allowed to represent depending on their clan and specific area of country.
Attending the Youth Justice Court was quite confronting at times, especially when observing the Child Protection List. Whilst the presiding judge was explaining the process to me, I was shocked to hear how little resources are allocated to ensure stability and rehabilitation for vulnerable children. It was also very interesting from a legal perspective to observe how court procedure changes during the process, as it often included three representatives from Territory Families (CEO, case worker, counsel) and up to two other lawyers representing the parents. Despite the entrenched nature of many of the cases, it was heartening to see the passion involved in the Child Protection process from all parties, especially the Judge, and a strong focus on gaining consistent care and possibilities for reunification.
Darwin in the wet was great, despite hearing ‘you should come in the dry’ daily! The working environment is very supportive and inspiring, with many young professionals from all over Australia who had different stories and career paths. It was great to speak to lawyers from bodies such as NAAJA, NLC, Legal Aid and Territory Families to realise that every journey to the NT had been so different and diverse.
Darwin is full of great food and markets, including the famous Laksa at Parap markets and the fresh produce at Rapid Creek. It was great to experience some of Australia’s history by visiting the WW2 tunnels to learn about what occurred in Darwin during the war. I also visited Litchfield with friends as a day trip, swimming at Florence Falls and Buley Rockhole. The water was extremely clear and fresh and most importantly, croc-free (at the time).
Everybody at the LCNT and in Darwin was so welcoming and willing to share their experiences, giving up their time to chat to me. I would highly recommend an Aurora internship and encourage anyone considering it to apply. My time at the LCNT definitely gave me invaluable experience that I could not gain through law school.