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Judgment handed down in Bradley v The Queen

30 March 2017

The Court of Appeal today dismissed an application for leave to appeal against sentence. The applicant had been convicted, in 2015, of the 1983 murder of 16 year old Michelle Buckingham in Shepparton. He was sentenced to 27 years’ imprisonment with a non-parole period of 21 years.

Michelle Buckingham had been stabbed to death in October 1983, and her body dumped by the side of the road. Her murder had remained unsolved for almost 30 years, until the applicant’s brother-in-law had approached police in 2012 with evidence of a confession made to him by the applicant the morning after the murder. 

The applicant sought leave to appeal his sentence on three grounds. First, that the sentencing judge had erred in finding the youth of the applicant at the time of the offence was only relevant ‘to some limited extent’. Secondly, that the judge had erred in failing to take into account sentencing practices at the time of the offence.  Thirdly, that the sentence was manifestly excessive.

The Court noted that the sentencing judge had a difficult task before him, as the applicant was only 21 when he committed the offence. It was apparent that the judge had given some weight to the applicant’s youth as having reduced his moral culpability. However, the mitigating effect of youth had been qualified in this case by the seriousness of the offending. 

The Court also noted the difficulties of sentencing an offender when there has been a lengthy delay between the commission of the offence and the imposition of sentence.  Had Mr Bradley been sentenced for murder in the mid-1980s, he would have received the then mandatory sentence of life imprisonment. However, he might well have been released early, as it seems to have been the practice of the government, at the time, regularly to commute life sentences for murder after offenders had served about 15 years in prison, or perhaps a little longer. In this case, the sentencing judge had appropriately moderated the sentence imposed in accordance with the principle of ‘equal justice’ as stipulated in R v Stalio,[1] which required a judge sentencing an offender for an historic offence to take into account, to some degree, sentencing practices at the time of the offence (though not as part of ‘current sentencing practices’ under s 5(2)(b) of the Sentencing Act 1991). In particular, the Court explained that it could not be guided, in relation to that particular provision, by executive decisions regarding early release.

Furthermore, the Court noted that it was the applicant’s own conduct, in leaving Victoria and concealing his responsibility for this murder for over thirty years, which made it impossible for him to be sentenced contemporaneously with the offending.  For that reason, he was not entitled — following his much-delayed conviction for murder — to seek to be treated as if his criminal responsibility had been established in 1984 or thereabouts.

Finally, the Court found that the sentence imposed on Mr Bradley was within range for an offence as heinous as this. The Court noted that similarly grave offences had, in recent times, resulted in like sentences. 

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NOTE:  This summary is necessarily incomplete.  It is not intended as a substitute for the Court’s reasons or to be used in any later consideration of the Court’s reasons.  The only authoritative pronouncement of the Court’s reasons and conclusions is that contained in the published reasons for judgment.

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[1]             [2012] VSCA 120.

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