: Racial Vilification Conviction

Racial Vilification Conviction

Renae Barker
Western Australia

On 31 January 2011 Brendan Lee O’Connell became the first person sentenced under Western Australia’s anti-vilification laws. He was sentenced to three years imprisonment after being found guilty of six charges of racial vilification. In 2009 Mr O’Connell posted footage of himself on the internet showing him insulting a young Jewish man and of a speech filmed outside the Bell Tower in Perth. The offences also related to an altercation between Mr O’Connell and two young Jewish men at a rally outside an IGA supermarket in south Perth. The protest was being conducted by the group ‘Friends of Palestine’ against the sale of oranges from Israel at the IGA store. Members of the Australian Union of Students attended the protests leading to the altercation.

Mr O’Connell represented himself at the proceedings, after firing his lawyer. During the trial he refused to acknowledge District Court Judge Wisbey, instead bowing to the jury. During the trial he referred to the proceedings as a ‘kangaroo court’ and demanded that Justice Wisbey face treason charges.

Racial vilification legislation was first introduced into Western Australia in 1990 and was amended in 2004. Unlike many other Australian jurisdictions Western Australia does not have civil remedies for racial vilification. This means that the only option open to victims of racial vilification is to pursue criminal charges.

One of the interesting characteristics of this trial was that Mr O’Connell was charged with racial vilification for his comments relating to Jews, a group which is usually regarded as religious rather than racial in nature. WA does not have any legislation dealing with religious vilification. At the time the racial vilification laws were strengthened in 2004 religious vilification legislation was considered but ultimately rejected by the government before it was put before parliament.

RENAE BARKER is a PhD law student at University of Western Australia.

(2011) 36(2) AltLJ 136
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