Melbourne, May 28 : Over 90 per cent of people in Arnhem Land do not understand basic legal concepts, and many Aborigines are under the impression that white society is "lawless".
In a report titled An Absence of Mutual Respect, researchers spoke to Yolngu people from a cross-section of the community, including interpreters, locals and community leaders.
They were quizzed on the 30 most commonly used English legal words such as bail, commit, arrest, charge and guilty.
The ARDS report found 95 per cent of Yolngu people were unable to correctly identify their meaning. Only 17 per cent of responses from language professionals were correct while 90 per cent of community leaders, such as ATSIC members, school teachers and council representatives, had no understanding of the terms at all.
Ninety-seven per cent of Yolngu people born after 1967 fell into the lowest category of understanding, reports news.com.au.
The results explained the stark over-representation of Aborigines in territory prisons - currently over 80 per cent - and why increasing numbers of young males were falling foul of the law after moving to large urban centres.
"People thought that pleading guilty actually got them through the court quickly and they didn't go to jail," he said.
"There is massive confusion out there about white fella law point blank."
In conclusion, the report found many Aborigines were disempowered when it came to dealing with the legal system, and it recommended communication programs to bridge the gap.
It said Aboriginal people often thought they were functioning within a lawless society because "they don't understand it so they see it as lawless".