Justice goes the full circle
By ANDY PARKS firstname.lastname@example.org A MURAL unveiled at Lismore Court House on Friday depicts justice for Aboriginal offenders participating in the process of 'circle sentencing'.
The mural was created by Lismore TAFE students undertaking the Aboriginal Art and Cultural Practices course.
Daphne May Kal-Ma-Kuta, 79, was one of the students involved in the project.
Mrs Kal-Ma-Kuta said she started going to TAFE 'to do something other than watch TV'.
She started painting a couple of years ago. She normally paints in dot painting style and recently won the Coraki Art Prize. Originally from Bribie Island in Queensland, she said her name means 'honey bee' in her local language. Her class was asked to create a work depicting the process of circle sentencing, a process where Aboriginal offenders are sentenced by a group of local elders in conjunction with a magistrate and others.
A group of elders and court staff watched Friday's unveiling ceremony.
According to the Circle Sentencing project officer Melissa Everson, the mural depicts the journey of an Aboriginal person through two forms of justice.
"When an Aboriginal comes to court they can apply for circle sentencing.
"They are interviewed by a panel of elders and if found to be eligible, are then given a date for circle sentencing," she said.
The circle consists of a magistrate, the prosecutor, a solicitor, three elders, the accused, a support person and representatives from the Aboriginal Programs Unit.
"The accused is asked about the offence and their history. Usually at least one elder knows the person and their family," she said.
Ms Everson said the process usually lasts over an hour and is 'full on, very intense'.
"There are lots of tears, lots of emotion and lots of honesty."
She said at the end of the process the elders make a decision about what the sentence should be, with the magistrate and prosecutor there for guidance.
Their decision then goes back to the court to be formally handed down.
Ms Everson said there were nine areas in New South Wales that have circle sentencing as an option.
"It has been running for about 18 months in Lismore. In that time we have had 50 circles and only six people have re-offended, she said."