The first man in Australia charged with importing an illegal euthanasia drug has decided to fight the charge after pleading not guilty at his first court appearance today.
Albany man Rupert Ward, 69, had indicated he would plead guilty to the rare charge of importing the drug before and when he arrived at Albany Magistrate’s Court today, but decided to plead not guilty after receiving legal advice.
Legal Aid lawyer Graeme Payne said the substance would need to be sent away for analysis.
It is understood Mr Ward was in possession of less than one milligram.
Exit International director Dr Philip Nitschke, who supported Mr Ward in court, said the pro-euthanasia group would fund the legal costs when the matter proceeded to trial.
Mr Ward was one of 12 members of the pro-euthanasia group across the country by police after receiving advice from Australian Federal Police and Customs.
The court was told the raid on his home on April 12, described as a “welfare check’ by police prosecutor Craig Haven today also uncovered 24.9g of cannabis, 2.5g of cannabis seeds and a smoking implement.
He pleaded guilty to two counts of possessing cannabis, possessing a prohibited plant and possessing drug paraphernalia.
Outside court, Dr Nitschke said from the legal advice received, there was a “fair likelihood” Mr Ward may have been incorrectly charged.
“There is a very important and significant development and that is maybe what Rupert has been charged with doesn’t actually comply with what was actually found so there so there is questions about the actual identity of the substance that was supposedly involved and that has to be more fully examined,” he said.
“This will have significance for other people involved such as the charges coming up on Monday in Brisbane where another Exit member is facing similar charges.”
Dr Nitscke described the quantity Mr Ward was in possession of as “not enough to make a person yawn, let alone end their life” and was hopeful the charge could be successfully defended.
“I’m hopeful this will lead to some a much clearer indication of what is legal and what is illegal is this whole vexed business of people getting end of life drugs,” he said.
Mr Ward, who reports to be of good health, said in an interview with the Albany Advertiser this week he imported the drug in December so he could “have control over the way my life ended” if he became terminally ill.
He will reappear in court on August 28 for a directions hearing.