An Aboriginal teenage girl has lost an appeal to have her trial heard by a female judge, which she requested because it would involve showing footage of her being strip-searched, AAP reports.
In 2019, the girl was arrested after allegedly stealing a car at the age of 15. At Wagga Wagga Police Station, police strip searched the girl before sending her to jail for six months.
Now the girl’s lawyers want to argue that the strip search was illegal, which would involve showing footage of it in court. However, this kind of footage is considered to be Women’s Business in many Aboriginal cultures, which means it can’t be shown in front of men.
“Showing of a woman’s sensitive body parts is considered Women’s Business,” an Aboriginal Legal Service field officer told the court back in January.
“Cultural shame would result where Women’s Business is conducted in front of men, a shame that would stay with the particular woman for a long time.”
At the time, the Children’s Court magistrate basically argued that because the footage would have to be see by five male police officers in order for them to comment on the case, there would supposedly be no point in assigning a female judge to protect Women’s Business. The magistrate also claimed that they didn’t even have the power to assign a female judge for those reasons.
However now, the Appeals Court has ruled that the Children’s Court actually did have the power to assign the case to a female judge, as per the teen girl’s wishes.
But despite this, the appeal itself was rejected because the judges found that this legal mistake hadn’t affected the decision of the Children’s Court magistrate in the end.
Because the girl has said she won’t defend her case in front of a male judge, two of the appeal judges suggested both sides could perhaps compromise by pixelating the footage or not showing parts where her genitals are visible.
It’s unclear exactly what the path forward is for this young Aboriginal girl who understandably wants to avoid having her strip-search footage being seen by a male judge.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander young people are disproportionately affected by strip-searches, and sadly it’s unlikely this will be the last time such an issue crops up in the legal system.
The big takeaway from this ruling is that the Children’s Court does in fact have the power to order cases relating to Women’s Business to be heard in front of a female judge in future. It’s just a matter of judges saying yes.