United Nations General Assembly High Level Debate on Equal Access to Justice for All: Advancing Reforms for Peaceful, Just and Inclusive Societies

*Check against delivery*

Chair, Honourable Ministers, Distinguished Representatives,

Australia welcomes the opportunity to contribute to today’s discussion.

If we are serious about protecting human rights and the rule of law, and realising a safe and secure society, it is critical that we recognise and overcome inequities in the criminal justice system and barriers to access to justice. I would like to highlight today three areas in which Australia is taking action.

The first relates to people with disability. This debate is taking place at the same time that member states, civil society and other partners are meeting to discuss the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

Australia is committed to ensuring that people with disability are safe and feel safe from violence, abuse, neglect, and exploitation. Australia’s Disability Strategy 2021-2031 (the Strategy) draws on discussions in forums like this as well as the lived experiences of people with disability, and is guided by Article 3 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

The Strategy aims to ensure that the rights of people with disability are promoted, upheld, and protected, and that the criminal justice system responds effectively to the complex needs and vulnerabilities of people with disability.

Our second area of focus relates to vulnerable witnesses and victim-survivors of sexual violence. Australia is committed to enhancing access to equitable justice outcomes through the National Plan to End Violence against Women and Children and is developing legislative reforms to strengthen protections and criminal justice outcomes for vulnerable witnesses and victim-survivors.

This includes by restricting the admissibility of sexual reputation and experience evidence, tailoring proceedings to the needs of vulnerable witnesses, and allowing people in vulnerable situations to pre-record their evidence and use it in subsequent trials to reduce re-traumatisation.

Finally, consistent with the National Agreement on Closing the Gap, the Australian Government is working in partnership with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander organisations and peoples to improve youth justice and child protection systems, provide culturally safe and appropriate legal representation, and address unacceptably high rates of incarceration.

We are taking action to address drivers of contact with the criminal justice system and are establishing a National Justice Reinvestment Program to support and empower Aboriginal and Torres Strait communities to design place-based justice reinvestment initiatives that address community priorities to reduce over-incarceration.

We look forward to hearing more about other countries’ experiences in advancing equal access to justice for all.

Thank you.