Customary law in Australia

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Customary law in Australia relates to the systems and practices amongst Aboriginal Australians which have developed over time from accepted moral norms in Aboriginal societies, and which regulate human behaviour, mandate specific sanctions for non-compliance, and connect people with the land and with each other, through a system of relationships.[1] Customary laws are passed on by word of mouth and are not codified (nor can they be easily codified). In addition, they are not singular throughout Australia — different language groups and clans have different concepts of customary law, and what applies within one group or region cannot be assumed to be universal.[2]

Historically, customary law has not been recognised as part of the canon of Australian law. But, since the late twentieth century, the Australian Law Reform Commission (1986) and the Law Reform Commission of Western Australia (2005) have written extensive reports investigating the desirability of recognising the role of customary law in legal situations involving Aboriginal Australians. In the Northern Territory, some statutes and courts make explicit reference to customary law where such is useful in identifying relationships or social expectations.[3] These changes have not been without controversy, especially in cases where customary law is either imprecise, or infringes upon human rights.[4]

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