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Deakin students assisting NT mercy petition

Deakin law’s staff and students are fighting to release a young Aboriginal man from a Northern Territory prison who they note is serving a life sentence for a murder he did not physically commit.

user iconGrace Ormsby 14 August 2018 Politics
Aboriginal man from a Northern Territory prison
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Zak Grieve has been imprisoned since 27 October 2011 for the murder of Raffaeli Niceforo, and students, researchers and volunteers have assisted lawyers in filing an historic petition for mercy with Northern Territory Administrator the Honourable Vicki O’Halloran.

The petition for mercy in the matter of Zak Grieve was filed last month with the Northern Territory Administrator and has been signed by Professor Gerry, Deakin Law Clinic Solicitor Rebecca Tisdale, Columbia Law School’s Julian Murphy and Julia Kretzenbacher of Owen Dixon Chambers West.

It outlines that Mr Grieve was sentenced as a 19-year-old with no prior convictions. He had a work history, a supportive family, has shown remorse, was unlikely to reoffend and was said by the sentencing judge to be “a person of good character” and “non-violent.”


Raffaeli Niceforo was killed in his Katherine home by Chris Malyschko and Darren Halfpenny.

Malyschko was found to have planned the murder after extreme domestic violence and death threats towards Malyschko’s mother by Niceforo.

As a friend of Malyschko’s, Mr Grieve had initially agreed to participate in the murder but later explained he was unable to participate and withdrew from the plan.

Mr Grieve was still found guilty of murder and was sentenced to life in prison with a non-parole period of 20 years.

In a Deakin University statement, Mr Grieve said his case was a “nightmare scenario of what can go wrong with mandatory sentencing.”

“Mandatory sentencing is taking a pre-made sentence for someone and saying no matter what the circumstances, no matter what the consequences, you’ll have what’s given to you, even if you don’t deserve it, even if the offender has taken all the necessary steps to change themselves for the better,” he said.

Deakin law school professor Felicity Gerry QC said the case could have far-reaching implications for the Northern Territory justice system as it draws attention to the injustices caused by the NT’s mandatory sentencing regime and students were making an important contribution.

“Mandatory sentencing laws endanger fundamental human rights, exacerbate the disadvantage of particular social groups – most notably Aboriginal people and young people – and diminish public confidence in the legal system,” she said.

The petition calls on the NT Administrator to release Mr Grieve and “correct a grave injustice.” It argues the repeal and replacement of mandatory sentencing laws like those under which Grieve was sentenced will better serve all Territorians, help to address the NT’s alarming rates of Aboriginal incarceration and alleviate the reputational damage currently suffered by the NT criminal justice system.

The petition also makes a number of suggestions about sentencing reform, arguing for the repeal of mandatory sentencing laws and their replacement with evidence-based sentencing legislation.

It argues that any persons already sentenced under these laws should be permitted to apply for judicial reconsideration of their sentence on the act’s repeal and that the government should consider establishing a Sentencing Advisory Council similar to what exists in most other Australian jurisdictions.

Professor Gerry has expressed her pride for the students, volunteers and researchers who contributed to Mr Grieve’s formal mercy petition, and hopes “the outcome is positive given the important justice issues raised.”

She said the Deakin Law Clinic forms a central part of Deakin law school’s clinical legal education program, and gives their “more senior law students opportunity to gain practical experience while working on real issues of public interest and helping those who are disadvantaged gain access to justice.”