End ban on customary law in sentencing, urges law council
Chris Merritt, 18/2/10
The Law Council of Australia has committed itself to overturning the federal ban that prevents judges taking account of Aboriginal customary law. The Law Council’s new policy on indigenous Australians describes customary law as “sophisticated and complex”. But the Law Council has also recognised that some aspects of customary law — such as the arranged marriage of under-age girls – breach Australian law and international human rights principles. The policy says the Law Council recognises that indigenous Australians may observe their customary laws and that these should be recognised by the legal system where this is appropriate. But it says this should be done “consistently with international human rights standards” — a qualification that could leave the way open for the exclusion of the more contentious aspects of Aboriginal law. The policy, which was launched this week by Law Council president Glenn Ferguson, would require the federal government to overturn the Howard government’s 2006 changes that prevent judges taking account of customary law when passing sentence. This issue came to prominence in 2006 when a 55-year-old Aboriginal elder was sentenced to a month’s jail for having anal sex with a 14-year-old girl promised to him as a wife.