Girl gang rape haunted me: Chief Justice

By: Sarah Elks
IN a rare emotional insight, Queensland's Chief Justice has revealed he was ``deeply, personally affected'' by the case of a 10-year-old girl who was gang-raped in Aurukun -- the ``most difficult'' of his judicial career.
In June, the most senior bench of the state's Court of Appeal, headed by Chief Justice Paul de Jersey, gave five of nine males jail sentences of up to six years. His decision came after Cairns District Court judge Sarah Bradley had given three men, aged 17, 18 and 25 at the time of the offence, suspended sentences and ordered convictions not be recorded against six juveniles, aged between 13 and 15.
Chief Justice de Jersey said that presiding over the case was a ``particularly harrowing experience''.
``The fairly acute realisation to which we came (was) of the level of abject dysfunctionality, which is frankly the abiding characteristic of that community,'' he said.
``I hadn't quite appreciated how dismal things were on the ground there, until I saw that case and until I saw the conduct involved in it and the dulled perceptions of issues of right and wrong.''
Asked how he processed that away from the court, Chief Justice de Jersey said: ``As best (I) can.''
The case came to light in December last year. The Australian revealed that Judge Bradley had said the girl, from a remote Cape York indigenous community, ``probably agreed'' to have sex with the males in 2006. The Australian's Tony Koch and Padraic Murphy last week won the print news report Walkley Award for breaking the story.
The story sparked international outrage and prompted Queensland Attorney-General Kerry Shine to appeal against the leniency of the sentences, which he described as ``manifestly inadequate''.
Chief Justice de Jersey made his comments yesterday during and after a Committee for Economic Development of Australia lunch in Brisbane yesterday.
He also spoke about his role as patron of a scholarship program for indigenous boys run by the prestigious Brisbane Boys' College.
Chief Justice de Jersey said his patronage of the program would ideally have a positive impact on indigenous involvement in the judicial system.
``One of the most dismal experiences that I have (is) in the Criminal Court in Mt Isa, sentencing a succession of indigenous offenders,'' he said.
``Those people come from a situation of comparably dreadful disadvantage.
``Our system of social justice is obviously benefited by our taking steps to alleviate disadvantage ... but particularly for indigenous youth.
``It is simply abysmal to think of the sacrifice of talent ... simply because the opportunity isn't afforded these young people. If we can do something to address that, then I think we've done a lot for humanity.''
Brisbane Boys' College received two applications yesterday from boys from Aurukun seeking to be considered for the scholarships.
The first two boys sponsored by the BBC Indigenous Fund, Dane Gagai from Mackay and Clargie Saltmere from Mornington Island, finished their Year 12 studies at the school this year.