The focus of ALRC Report 31 (tabled 12 June 1986) was whether it would be desirable to apply, either in whole or in part, Aboriginal customary law to Aborigines—generally or in particular areas or to those living in tribal communities only. In addition, the report addressed whether in criminal cases existing courts should be able to apply Aboriginal customary laws to Aborigines and whether Aboriginal communities should have power to apply their customary laws in the punishment and rehabilitation of Aborigines.
The report outlined that, with very limited exceptions, Aboriginal customary laws have never been recognised by general Australian law. It reported that customary laws were a significant influence in the lives of many Aborigines. More importantly however, the report recognised that there was no one 'authentic version' of customary law. Customary law was and continued to be a series of dynamic and changing systems applying to different groups of Indigenous Australians. The report highlighted that Aboriginal people must have the final say in the negotiation and consultation surrounding the recognition of customary law.