Indigenous participation in sentencing procedures has been occurring informally in remote communities for some time. During the late 1990s, formalisation of this practice began in urban areas with the advent of Indigenous sentencing and Circle Courts. Formalisation has also occurred in remote areas. The aim has been to make court processes more culturally appropriate, to engender greater trust between Indigenous communities and judicial officers, and to permit a more informal and open exchange of information about defendants and their cases. Indigenous people, organisations, elders, family and kin group members are encouraged to participate in the sentencing process and to provide officials with insight into the offence, the character of victim-offender relations, and an offender’s readiness to change.
This paper describes the range of practices used. It is a snapshot of current practice at year-end 2003 in Australia. As courts and justice practices evolve and grow, new processes will emerge.