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Justice Robert French
On 12 September 1994, Justice Robert French, President of the National Native Title Tribunal, addressed the National Press Club in Canberra:

'The very nature of native title suggests that its proof in conventional litigation can be lengthy and expensive. If I can bracket the range for you. The Mabo case which in the scale of native title claims was a neat, tight, well-defined claim, a well-defined community and well-defined land took up 67 days in hearing the evidence. Now 67 days in court is a respectable piece of litigation by any standards. At the other end of the spectrum -- one hopes that it is the other end of the spectrum -- there is the Delgammukw case in Canada. - Delgammukw v British Columbia. That covered a claim area of over some 58,000 square kilometres of land in British Columbia, excluding privately held fee simple lands. It took 318 days to hear the evidence, 56 days for submissions and cost something like $25 million and in 1991 the claim was substantially dismissed. It then went through the appeal process to the Supreme Court of Canada, which sent the matter back to the trial judge who had failed to take adequate account of oral histories. There is a need for a non-litigious alternative to at least explore the possibility of resolving native title claims without reference to litigation, and the mechanism provided by the Native Title Act is the National Native Title Tribunal.

It is important and fundamental to make clear at this stage what is so often not clear in the Australian community, and the lack of clarity arises from the use of the word "Tribunal", that the Tribunal is not a court. If you look up the dictionary, of course, you will find that the dictionary definition of a tribunal suggests it is just that, a court. But it is not a court and indeed it might well have been better named the National Native Title Dispute Resolution Service.'

Keywords: Canberra, French, Justice Robert, National Native Title Tribunal, 1994

Justice Robert French, President of the National Native Title Tribunal, Speech to the National Press Club, 12 September 1994.
Author: Strelein, Lisa
Source: French, Justice Robert