Liberal Senator Barnett proposes abolishing fair trials

Tasmanian Liberal Senator Guy Barnett today called for an end to fair criminal trials. Well, effectively.

In Senate Estimates today, Senator Barnett discovered that the government had spent around $10 million on the legal defence of nine people charged with terrorism offences. They were eventually found guilty. So Senator Barnett reckons that legal defence was a waste of money.

Senator Barnett, who chairs the Scrutiny of Government Waste Committee, issued a media release earlier today headlined $10 million spent on legal aid to defend the rights of terrorists.

Apparently if someone is to be found guilty — which he must assume can be known in advance — then the cost of their legal defence is “government waste”.

Now people who are capable of joined-up thinking may see the logical problem and risk to human rights here. Like, you know, innocent until proven guilty and the right to a fair trial and all that stuff. So I’ve just sent the following email.

Dear Senator Barnett…

I’ll cut to the chase. The way you’ve pitched your media release today is disgusting.

I suspect you’ve got some sellable points in there about why those criminal trials cost around $1 million each, and about lawyers charging like wounded bulls. I agree that there should be far more funding for Legal Aid. But then your mob were in power for 11 years and did bugger all about it, so you’re not really in a position to point the finger, eh?

But what SERIOUSLY pisses me off, and what explains the tone of this email, is that you’ve pitched this as being about terrorism suspects somehow not deserving legal representation. If these individuals were “subsequently found guilty of terrorism offences”, all well and good. But whoever they are, whatever their alleged crime, they deserve a fair trial with competent legal representation.

The anti-terrorism laws passed in the aftermath of 9/11 are seriously flawed. Our police and intelligence agencies were given sweeping new powers without counterbalancing oversight. The word “terrorism” is waved like a magic wand to reduce the accused’s rights. Anyone charged with a terrorism offence is automatically working from a far weaker position than if they’d been charged with an equivalent crime that didn’t have the “terrorism” label.

I’ve just covered the Federal Court battle between the movie industry and the internet service provider iiNet, which clocked up around $10 million in legal fees. I can well understand how terrorism cases, many of which will be test cases for these new laws, could clock up similarly large legal bills.

Should you, me, our families or those around us be charged with some offence in the future, by some government with a heart less warm and compassionate as yours, I’d like to make sure we get our fair trial.

“I think most Australians would be shocked to realise that over $10 million in taxpayers funds has been spent defending the rights of those convicted of terrorist offences,” you say. But until the fair trial has been conducted, we don’t know whether they’re innocent or guilty . Everyone is entitled to an assumption of innocence until proven guilty.

Do the Liberals have some crystal ball which can reveal in advance which trials will result in a guilty verdict? I don’t think so.

I don’t care what some ill-defined “most Australians” think. Justice isn’t mob rule. And an appeal to an assumed majority is a fallacious argument anyway.

At the next election, which I assume will happen later this year, I’ll be looking to vote for the party which will best manage our nation. I’m open to suggestions at this point.

But a party which deliberately panders to ignorance and racism? No thanks. That’s not my Australia.



4 Replies to “Liberal Senator Barnett proposes abolishing fair trials”

  1. I agree. I think that’s a ridiculous comment from a pollie. Wish I could write that eloquently when I have the shits. Props to you on that !

  2. Very valid points and well written.

    Perhaps he needs to walk past a court and see that statue that is out the front. Justice is shown as blind for a reason, not because it suits a political agenda.

    This attitude was what caused the problems Dr Haneef, the govt did not get enough egg on its face when the case fell apart.

  3. Remember the Birmingham 6 who were found guilty and then found innocent and know that the police and law courts can get it very wrong. And remember that those who are thus unjustly jailed should be paid large amounts of compensation and think that those who were responsible should be charged with perjury and perverting the course of justice.

  4. Thank you for mentioning the cases of the Birmingham 6 and Muhamed Haneef. They are both clear examples of how terrorism cases are often associated with immense political and media pressure to find, prosecute and convict the terrorists quickly.

    The anti-terrorism laws provide additional layers of secrecy which make it much harder to detect when police or politicians have fabricated evidence or otherwise acted improperly. As I say, this automatically puts defendants in a weaker position, which may in turn require a more complex, vigorous and therefore expensive defence.

    I find it worrying that those pushing “we must get tough” lines seem to be unaware of this or, if they are, reckon that our “strong traditions of fairness and democracy” will somehow magically protect us. History, even recent history, continues to show this is not the case, and has never been the case.

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