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Aboriginality defence to be tested

06 August 2013, 15:41

Sydney - Australia's High Court is set to consider for the first time in 30 years whether aboriginality can be used as a defence during sentencing in criminal cases.

Aboriginal people make up one-quarter of the prison population yet comprise only 2% of the nation's overall population.

In what could result in a landmark decision affecting the rate of indigenous incarceration, the court will hear on Wednesday the case of William David Bugmy, an Aboriginal man from western New South Wales who has spent most of his adult life in jail.

Bugmy, aged 31, was convicted of assaulting a prison guard in 2011 and sentenced to six years. On appeal by the Crown, a state court ruled that special consideration for indigenous offenders - which takes into account their cultural and social background - did not apply to repeat offenders such as Bugmy, and added another year and a half to his sentence.

Bugmy's lawyers argue that consideration of aboriginality does not expire, and have appealed to the High Court in Canberra. The court has also been asked to consider the over-representation of Aboriginal people in Australian jails.

The defendant's aunt, Julie Bugmy, told national broadcaster she was concerned that if the court did not find in favour of her nephew he might never leave prison.

"William has been locked up since he was 13," she said. "Who has played the parent role for this juvenile? The state? Who was a parent to this child?"


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