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Program maps path for Indigenous lawyers

Ruby Jones Hayes
Ruby Jones Hayes is one of around 20 students who will undertake this year's Indigenous Pre-Law Enabling Program

A Charles Darwin University (CDU) program is aiming to grow the number of Indigenous lawyers in the Northern Territory.

Currently only two per cent of legal practitioners in the NT are Indigenous - a stark contrast to Territory population figures where Indigenous people make up approximately 30 per cent.

The Indigenous Pre-Law Enabling Program this year has welcomed around 20 students from Alice Springs, Ramingining, Gove, Broome, Katherine, Weipa, Townsville, Kalkaringi Community, Wyndham and Greater Darwin area.

The program has been made possible through a grant from the Alicia Johnson Memorial Trust and NT Law Society Public Purposes Trust and is run in close partnership with the Bilata Legal Pathways Program co-founders John Rawnsley and James Parfitt.

Entering its fourth year, coordinator Dr Guzyal Hill said the program had gone from strength to strength.

“Indigenous people are grossly underrepresented in both studying and practicing law in the NT,” Dr Hill said.

“For people who have never been to university and do not have anyone in their family who has been to university, applying to study and preparing supporting documentation can be daunting.

“The goal of Indigenous Pre-Law Enabling Program is to break those barriers and create a support network for our students to overcome the hurdles and complete the degree.”

Mr Parfitt said the program was designed to create the next generation of Indigenous lawyers in the NT.

“The power of having our own highly professional and committed people working, advocating and representing our people in the justice field is self-determination and self-representation at its finest, the words of the Gurindji echoes through my head, ‘from little things big things grow’,” he said.

CDU Law’s numbers have been boosted significantly as a result of the program, with almost 80 Indigenous students currently studying to complete a Bachelor of Laws.

This year’s intake will visit the Supreme and Local Courts, Parliament, NAAJA and CDU facilities. They will also participate in the first Larrakia Legal History and Cultural Tour where students will visit key sites across Darwin, learn about its history and the laws, and hear Larrakia perspectives.

For more information about future intakes or to become involved as a supporter contact Dr Guzyal Hill (Guzyal.Hill@cdu.edu.au).