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Mr Justice Owens, in the NSW Supreme Court, at Auburn, gave judgement on six boys all under 17 years, two of whom were still at school, who had been found guilty of mass rape. Prior to that, another boy, aged 19 years had been sentenced to death for his leading part in the crime. The younger boys were each handed out a penalty of life imprisonment with hard labour, under laws which made such a sentence mandatory. His Honour indicated that, under the Child Welfare Act of 1939, he had no choice other than to impose these penalties. He added that he would much rather have sent them to an institution, and leave officers of the Child Welfare Department determine the length of detention. The jury also recommended against the imposition of these penalties.

Public interest in this matter was extreme, as the following writings on the matter indicate.

The Editorial from the Sydney Morning Herald left no doubt about what it thought. Under the heading “Barbarous Penalty”, it argued that the legal requirement for a judge, against his better will, to impose such penalties on “mere children” was  “severe to the point of savagery.” It points out, in the case of the young man sentenced to death, that current practice was to go through “the extreme farce” of pronouncing the death penalty, with the certain knowledge that that penalty would be remitted to life. The editorial goes on to advocate in strong terms for the revision of the appropriate statutes, and specifically, it calls for the Executive of the Government to grant clemency to all the boys.

Letters, A McGuiness, Bexley.  …. In England, for example, rape brings with it penal servitude for periods ranging from life to not less than three years. Or it might bring imprisonment, with or without hard labour, for not more than two years. It all depends on the circumstances......


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