Traditional court models are not effective in reducing crime in complex communities. Most people who are charged with low-level criminal offences receive a monetary penalty, yet criminal penalties such as fines are not appropriate for offenders who are homeless or living in poverty. Disadvantaged people are, by definition, unable to pay their fines. As a result, they incur large ‘SPER’ debts, which they are also unable to pay. People who do not pay their SPER debts can be sentenced to a period of imprisonment to ‘work off’ their fines. This ultimately means that people can be imprisoned as a direct result of disadvantage and poverty. This does not enhance community safety, and it alienates people from the ‘justice’ system. On the other hand, community courts aim to enhance community safety through therapeutic jurisprudence: offenders are encouraged to engage with the court, and support services, to address the underlying causes of their offending behaviour. To achieve this, non-punitive sanctions, such as community-based orders, are imposed, rather than monetary penalties or custodial. This project examines whether a community court model could be developed for use in southeast Queensland.

Project members

Professor Tamara Walsh

Professor and Director Pro Bono Centre
TC Beirne School of Law