In less polite circles we would call it a witch hunt. That is the only way one can describe the beat-up in today’s media railing against Queensland District Court judge Sarah Bradley. Judge Bradley was subjected last year to a concerted media and political campaign to drum her out of her job because she didn’t jail nine Aboriginal offenders for sex crimes. Now she’s under the gun again – for guess what? Doing what happens in thousands of cases every day of week in our courts, granting an accused person an adjournment!

Judge Bradley, sitting at the District Court in Cairns, last week granted a 3-month adjournment to a school teacher, James Last, who has admitted forcing an 11 year old Indigenous boy to perform oral s-x on him. Last’s lawyers are using the adjournment, according to The Australian, “to find an anthropologist to support their client’s claim that he had been trying to introduce the Torres Strait boy to “traditional” islander s-xual practices.”

The prosecution opposed the adjournment because they say they have two witnesses to oppose this claim.

Now let’s get some perspective here, shall we. In criminal cases an accused who pleads guilty is rightly given every opportunity to ensure that they have before the court all available mitigating evidence. After all, it is their liberty and reputation which is on the line. The prosecution regularly opposes such adjournments, but so what? Just because a prosecutor asks for an adjournment does not mean a judge has to grant it. In fact it is only if the prosecution would suffer prejudice from delay, or if the accused has asked for repeated adjournments, will a court not grant an adjournment.

In this particular case the defence has put to the court that their client’s excuse for doing what he did was that he did not receive s-xual gratification and believed it to be part of some appropriate ritual. His lawyers are not clutching at straws here – they have clearly identified an expert in the field of anthropology who can shed some light on this matter.

Now it may be that Judge Bradley disregards the anthropologist’s evidence. It may be that she says it is not a mitigating factor when she sentences the teacher. But she is, as the sentencing judge, doing the right thing in giving the defendant every opportunity to put all material before the court.

If Judge Bradley had not granted an adjournment in these circumstances she may well have given Mr Last a useful point of appeal – is this was the media wants?

How about the media gets off Judge Bradley’s back and lets her get on with doing her job – administering the laws of Queensland without fear or favour.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey