Aborigines, alcohol and murder in Australia
THE Northern Territory Opposition and police are demanding changes to the rules governing the admissibility of evidence in anattempt to secure more murder convictions for violent Aborigines.
Concerns are growing in the Territory - which has the nation's highest rate of homicide - about sentences for serious crimes and difficulties involved in pursuing murder convictions.
Most deaths, especially in central Australia, involve Aborigines, alcohol and domestic violence.
But since prosecutors have to prove intent, manslaughter convictions are more frequent than murder.
Opposition Leader Jodeen Carney said that while the rules of evidence existed to protect the accused, more flexibility was needed.
"I would like to see some changes made to the admissibility of records of interview," Ms Carney said. "My view is that the pendulum has swung a little too far in favour of the accused."
Since 1996, 12 indigenous people in the Northern Territory have been convicted of murder and 62 for manslaughter.
There have been 24 convictions for dangerous acts causing death and 23 for dangerous acts causing death while intoxicated.
Police Association president Vince Kelly said prosecutors sometimes "chucked in the towel too easily".
He said it could be difficult to prove Aborigines - and others who did not speak English well - understood legal processes.
"At some stage, the community, including the Aboriginal community and the legislature, are going to have to consider whether the rules of evidence in relation to these serious offences need to be changed," Mr Kelly said.
"The simplest approach would be to review the whole notion of the right to silence. If you can't display that the person you are interviewing understood that they have that right to silence ... and unless you get every step right, you can well lose your record of interview. That's what creates the problem."
Attorney-General Syd Stirling said the Territory Government was strengthening the Criminal Code to remove "partial defences" to murder.
"Being drunk will no longer be a defence to murder, and nor will an offender's cultural or ethnic background in assessing an ordinary person's behaviour," he said.
But Mr Stirling denied there were plans to broaden the way evidence is admitted to court.
"The Territory Government is not convinced that removing the right to silence would improve the fairness of the justice system," he said. "The current balance between the rights of the accused and the ability to present evidence in court is right."
In February this year, Georgie Swift, an Aboriginal man born in Alice Springs, was sentenced to 10 years in prison, with a non-parole period of seven years, for the manslaughter of his wife at a central Australian outstation.
Swift, aged between 32 and 36, was drinking alcohol at his home when the offender began arguing with his sister. He pulled a kitchen knife from his pants, stabbed and slashed his father and sister and then went looking for his wife.
After finding her in the bedroom, Swift - already serving a suspended sentence for assaulting his wife with a 30cm bar - fatally stabbed her several times.
In another case, Leeanne Jurrah, 21, was sentenced in October last year to five years behind bars, with a non-parole period of 2 1/2 years, for the manslaughter of her husband.
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