Since it came to light that a judge in North Queensland handed out what appears to be a remarkably lenient sentence to nine offenders who pleaded guilty to gang rape, the storm of controversy has kept growing. Three of the offenders were over the age of consent at 17, 18 and 26. They were given a six month jail sentence, suspended for twelve months. The younger offenders were placed on twelve months probation, with no convictions recorded. Those are the facts and I don’t have to explain why people would be outraged by this.
In any legal proceeding there is always more evidence and argument presented to the court that can be reported in the media. That is why “trial by media” is a poor substitute for justice. But even with the few facts that we do have this decision just defies common sense. This is the gang rape of a ten year old girl. It’s hard to imagine mitigating circumstances that would reduce the seriousness of that.
In the wake of public opinion the Queensland Attorney General, Kerry Shine, has announced an appeal against the sentences, and more importantly, a review of all judgments in sexual assault cases in North Queensland over the past two years.
It has been reported that the Judge, Sarah Bradley, delivered her sentence in line with the recommendations of the prosecutor. If that’s correct, the people of Australia are entitled to ask just who was the prosecutor representing…. The Crown, or the defendants? While the offenders aged 16 and under can expect to be treated as children by the law, what’s the explanation for the 26 year old? And since all the offenders as well as the victim are indigenous people, some people are also asking if there is one law for “them” and another for “us”.
These are questions that must be dealt with honestly, because unless justice is uniform then there really is no justice at all.