Law school program aims to educate students about ‘true justice’

The True Justice elective program at Charles Darwin University helps law students see legal education and justice from a First Nations' perspective.

Charles Darwin University’s (CDU) Law School is partnering with the North Australian Aboriginal Justice Agency (NAAJA) to provide students with a unique glimpse into the legal system from the perspectives of First Nations Peoples.

In a first for CDU, the five-day True Justice Deep Listening on Country elective unit will see 10 second-year law students examine the current Australian legal education, legal practice, law and justice in relation to First Nations’ Peoples. 

Students will travel to sites in Kakadu, Gunbalanya and Garramilla to connect with First Nations’ Traditional Owners, educators, interpreters, academics and lawyers.

Senior Lecturer in Law Dr Susan Bird co-designed CDU’s program with NAAJA’s Mr James Parfitt Fejo and says students will have the chance to better understand the connections between law, culture and identity. 

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“Through this course, students will have the chance to increase their cultural competency and deepen their understanding by hearing stories from First Nations knowledge holders and reflect on how white law impacts First Nations people,” Dr Bird says.  

“We are so privileged here in the NT to have opportunities like this – where we can take the time to listen deeply to other’s perspectives and think about how we could make reforms to our legal system to better reflect the needs of First Nations peoples.”

“An elective like this is a great opportunity to help reinvigorate our students, particularly First Nations students, as law study can sometimes be challenging and exhausting.  Having the opportunity to slow down and listen deeply will help them remain engaged as well as progress in their careers,” she says. 

Listening to Indigenous perspectives

Throughout the program, students will listen to Indigenous perspectives and critiques about the nature and impacts of the justice system and learn about sustainable paths to recalibrate the Australian legal education and system. 

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Mr Parfitt, a proud Larrakia man with over 30 years’ experience in the Indigenous legal space, says the program will offer the opportunity to provide a sense of connectedness and allow students to collaborate and ally themselves with justice for Indigenous peoples.

“Going out on Country will provide a chance for Indigenous and Non-Indigenous peoples to come together in a safe environment and learn in a context that is not a classroom,” Mr Parfitt says. 

“Students will sit with Elders and other presenters under a tree, or on a rock and learn about and discuss the history and legal disadvantage of First Nations’ People.”

“Understanding the past will help to provide healing so that we can come together and move forward as a community and transform the education and learning of law,” he says. 

CDU’s Dean of Law Professor Alan Berman says partnerships like the one CDU has with NAAJA is vital in providing career opportunities for students. 

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“I am pleased that we are partnering with NAAJA on this important course, and I look forward to hearing what our students learn from the intensive and their suggestions for ways the legal system can be reformed,” Professor Berman says.

“Several of CDU’s law graduates have gone on to work at NAAJA or other local law firms and government agencies so the knowledge they gain from this will be very important going forward in the careers.”

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