Imagined and Real Decolonizing Criminal Justice: A multi-disciplinary examination of Victoria’s reforms and implications for institutions, procedures and research

Mr Nicholas Verginis1
1Victorian Department of Justice and Regulation, Melbourne, Australia

Postcolonial critique of Australia’s criminal justice system is the most compelling explanation for the ongoing failure of the system to improve outcomes for the First People of Australia.  Apart from the scholarship of Anthony, Blagg and Cunneen, the theoretical framework of postcolonialism has had limited application to Australian criminology, public policy and the law.  In these orthodox disciplines, the ‘aboriginal problem’ remains within a colonial frame, an issue on the margins with limited appeal. For the few non-Indigenous Australians that have taken it further, this methodology involves a reckoning with personal identity, culture and history which is difficult to sustain.

This paper is a provocation for postcolonialism to have a greater role in these disciplines. Victoria is the case study for decolonised justice and the 2018 Aboriginal Justice Agreement (AJA) is examined as the latest step on that path. Entitled ‘Burra Lotjpa Dunguludja’ (Yorta Yorta for ‘senior leaders talking strong’) the AJA focusses on reversing the widening gap between the rates of Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people under justice supervision, and the Government’s commitment to self-determination.

Consistent with Blagg and Anthony, the Victorian experience has been a largely organic response lead by strong Aboriginal leadership, design and control of new processes in the legal system with a focus on healing and reintegration.

The final part draws from Canadian scholarship to explore what ‘indigenizing, reading, reframing and restoring’ (Smith, 1999) criminal justice might look like if the principle of self-determination is advanced in Victoria. To stimulate the audience and provoke critical self-reflection, it will explore key cultural barriers (eg, the legal doctrine of individualised justice), imagine alternative justice processes and (time permitting) Land’s ‘moral and political framework’ for non-Indigenous leadership in this area.

*This paper does not reflect the views of the Department of Justice. The opinions and errors in the presentation are his own.


Nicholas Verginis is Director of Police Policy and Governance in the Victorian Department of Justice and has over 15 years experience in legal and government roles in Victoria and the United Kingdom.

He has advised two Premiers, three Attorneys-General and a Minister for Police on crime prevention, policing and criminal law issues and been at the forefront of generational sentencing and bail reforms.

Nicholas holds a Masters in Public Policy and Management and degrees in Law and Arts from the University of Melbourne.

Nicholas is an advocate for the universal right to artistic expression and its transformative power and channels that passion as Deputy Chair of the Melbourne Fringe Festival – the city’s most inclusive, participatory, accessible and vibrant three weeks of the year.

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