$200,000 Wagyl trial cost feared
TOODYAY real estate agent Tony Maddox fears it may cost him $200,000 in legal fees to defend a charge of breaching State Aboriginal heritage law on his Nunile farm.
Northam Magistrate Donna Webb last month adjourned the hearing (court notice pictured left) to October 6 in Perth to enable a city trial date to be set.
Mr Maddox has pleaded not guilty to the charge, which carries a maximum penalty of nine months’ jail and a $20,000 fine.
He is being prosecuted by the State Government for building a vehicle crossing over Boyagerring Brook which flows inside his front gate and floods in winter.Read more
The prosecution describes Boyagerring Brook and the Avon River generally as the home of the Wagyl, a spiritual being in the form of a serpent that represents a core belief in traditional Avon Valley Noongar culture.
Mr Maddox says he did not know that Boyagerring Brook is protected by a 50-year-old Aboriginal heritage law when he built the vehicle crossing and an artificial lake.
He has instructed his Northam solicitor to brief a barrister to defend the charge.
Senior barristers can charge up to $10,000 a day, while junior barristers’ costs can start at about $5000 a day.
The case against Mr Maddox is separate to new WA Aboriginal Cultural Heritage laws from July 1 which prompted mass protests by angry farmers in Northam and elsewhere.
The WA Pastoralists and Graziers Association says it is awaiting legal advice on a potential High Court challenge.
The association says the Maddox case could help a long-running battle against State control over farmers’ property rights.
Association Property Rights Committee Chair Gary Peacock said it was a “long shot” but a member had offered to pay for a barrister’s opinion on whether Aboriginal heritage law had power over private land.
“We have great empathy for Tony and passionately support his case,” Mr Peacock said.
“We support him morally.”
Mr Maddox said he would pay for his own barrister when his case goes to trial and was told it may cost him $200,000 in legal fees.
Northam lawyer Bernadine Heiderich told last month’s hearing that nine defence witnesses would be called and that the Perth court may need to set aside four days for a trial.
The prosecution said via video link from Perth that the State had four witnesses and had anticipated a two-day trial.
Magistrate Webb said she might continue to hear the case in Perth because, as Ms Heiderich explained later to The Herald, the magistrate was transferring to the city court.
“You may not have seen the last of me,” Ms Webb told Mr Maddox as he left the court.
The trial is expected to start in December or early next year.