In December last year The Australian’s Tony Koch reported on a case involving Queensland District Court judge Sarah Bradley in which she handed down non custodial sentences and did not record convictions against others in a case involving a group of young Aboriginal men from Aurukun in the Cape York region who had raped a 10 year old girl.

Judge Bradley was vilified by conservative media commentators and politicians around the nation, and her decision was over turned this year by Queensland’s Court of Appeal.

This writer was one of the few to defend the decision of Judge Bradley at the time, so it is pleasing to know that one of the most experienced lawyers and judges when it comes to dealing with Aboriginal offenders has now also joined the defence of Judge Bradley.

Geoff Eames, who recently retired as a Victorian Supreme Court judge, and who now sits on the Northern Territory Supreme Court, told an Indigenous Law Conference in Melbourne on Friday that Bradley was right to focus on making jail time a last resort for Aboriginal offenders.

Unlike the overwhelming majority of those in the media and in the political sphere who fell over each other to publicly flog Judge Bradley last year, including Prime Minister Kevin Rudd who said he was ‘disgusted and appalled’ by the case, Geoff Eames’ support for Judge Bradley is based on an extensive depth of knowledge and experience on Eames’ part about dealing with Aboriginal offenders.

Eames spent many years as a lawyer working for the Aboriginal community in Alice Springs and was Counsel Assisting the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody, which had as one of its cornerstone recommendations that jail should be an absolute last resort when courts deal with Aboriginal offenders.

A senior member of the Victorian Bar, and former colleague of Eames, told Crikey that:

Geoff Eames’s comments on Sarah Bradley’s handling of the Aurukun rape case are based on an extraordinary depth of knowledge and insight gained from literally working at the coal face with Aboriginal people for 30 years.

What a pity then that, unlike the screaming and hysterical witch hunt of Sarah Bradley that followed The Australian’s reporting of her sentencing of the Aurukun rape offenders last year, Geoff Eames comments’, reported briefly in The Age over the weekend but nowhere else, are not given the same prominence.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey