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,[4][5] especially in cases where customary law is either imprecise, or infringes upon human rights.[6]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Law Reform Commission of Western Australia (February 2006). Aboriginal Customary Laws (Project 94) - Discussion Paper Overview. Quality Press. p. 7. ISBN 1-74035-056-1.
  2. ^ Australian Law Reform Commission (12 June 1986). "24. The Proof of Aboriginal Customary Laws". Recognition of Aboriginal Customary Laws (ALRC Report 31). Retrieved 30 May 2011.
  3. ^ Community Welfare Act 1983 (NT) s 69; Sentencing Amendment (Aboriginal Customary Law) Act 2004 (NT) s 4.
  4. ^ Walker v New South Wales [1994] HCA 64, (1994) 182 CLR 45 (16 December 1994), High Court (Australia).
  5. ^ Coe v Commonwealth [1993] HCA 42, High Court (Australia).
  6. ^ "High Court rejects customary law defence in sexual abuse case". The World Today. Australian Broadcasting Corporation. 19 May 2006. Retrieved 30 May 2010.