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Justice is the new black

This week saw the charging of two men – or something resembling human men, but probably closer to animal form – allegedly responsible for the death of Lynette Daley on NSW’s north coast almost four years ago. It’s been a long fight for justice for the investigating cops, Ms Daley’s relatives and her own community. And it’s a fight that continues to be part of a larger battle for justice for Aboriginal victim’s, particularly women.

But why should justice take so long, and why does one side have to bear battle scars just to achieve it?

It’s a horrible, horrible story.

Most people watching last month’s Four Corners program learnt that in January 2011, 33-year-old Ms Daley went to Ten Mile Beach with two men, one of whom has since claimed he was her boyfriend. It was a camping and fishing trip that probably involved more drinking than much else. Such was the lifestyle of all three that it’s hard to question the role social judgements played in what followed.

What’s alleged to have happened is best described as awful. A sexual act that went terribly wrong. A degrading series of events that had little to no regard for safety and well-being, let alone any hint whatsoever of any respect for women. There’s no point trawling over what happened; suffice to say that the alleged perpetrator of the violence inflicted inhumane and degrading sex acts upon his victim. And without any thought about what it would do, or the possible consequences.

Well, Ms Daley died as a result. According to the autopsy, from blunt force genital tract trauma, sustained during the violent sex act.

The police obviously though this was more than misadventure. More than a tragic accident during a drunken night of beach sex. They charged the pair with manslaughter (and being an accessory) a few months after. And so, then the matter would proceed to the relevant court for a jury to determine the pair’s guilt. Or, that’s how it would go in the normal scheme of things, right?

But no. The DPP dropped the charges.

There was no doubt a myriad of legal issues in this case. Probably a whole stack of matters that required investigation, analysis and consideration. But, was the decision to put this matter in the bottom draw – in the too hard basket – the right one for the community? Not the community the DPP lives in (the city) but the small community of Illuka. Was it the right decision for Aboriginal people, too often significantly over-represented as victim’s? Was it really in the interests of justice to shelve such a horrible crime?

Reckless indifference to human life is a basic premise of manslaughter. Watch the Four Corners report and judge for yourself.

Fast forward nearly four years and the pair are finally facing court, again. It took a hell of a lot of lobbying and a few flick passes to get there. Finally, they’ll go before 12 of their peers to be judged on what they did (or didn’t) allegedly do.

But it shouldn’t have taken the ABC story to do it.

It shouldn’t have taken a petition signed by more than 30,000 people.

It shouldn’t have taken the heart wrenching and desperate pleas by the family and community to do what should have been done in the interests of justice.

Justice, or even being seen to do justice, is not confined to the city. It’s not confined to populated areas where the majority of votes are. It’s not confined to things that happen within a small radius of the mahogany furnished offices in the CBD.

And it’s not the same either.

Crimes like Lynette Daley’s manslaughter impact on small communities for decades. They erode the very fabric of a town and area and have an effect that is stronger than if the same thing occurred in the Sydney, or any populated city. That’s not to suggest that murder and other violent crimes don’t affect people everywhere. But there’s a lasting ripple effect in rural communities.

Rural areas, and particularly those with strong Aboriginal populations, sometimes can seem to be forgotten when it comes to services like health and other government services. And justice doesn’t miss out. Too few cops, too far away, not enough resources. Out of sight, out of mind.

Is the death of a black woman nine hours drive from the city worth any less than a white socialite pushed off the gap in the eastern suburbs? The answer, of course, is no.

But examination of the response and the expectation of justice might have one thinking. Pondering, perhaps, whether the tyranny of distance or the judgements of a society have any part to play in decisions about justice.

For Lynette Daley and her community, it’s a case of better late than never. But what’s been the cost, and has anything really changed?

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