Half of all Australians will experience a legal problem this year. Most won’t get legal assistance or come into contact with our courts or other legal institutions. In part, this is because Australia’s legal system is “too slow, expensive and hard to understand”.
This was a key finding of the Productivity Commission’s draft report of its inquiry into access to justice, released this week.
The 891-page report seeks feedback on a number of findings and recommendations to improve access to justice. But why are they needed? And are the recommendations practical?
On Friday, Yassir Ibrahim Mohamed Hassan was sentenced in the NSW Supreme Court to a maximum term of 12 years imprisonment, with a non-parole period of nine years, for the manslaughter of his wife, Mariam Henery Yousif. Hassan's case is a stark reminder of the injustices caused by the partial defence of provocation, which continues to reduce what would otherwise be murder to manslaughter in New South Wales,
Hassan, aged 56 years old at the time of sentencing, killed his 24-year-old wife in a ‘frenzied’ knife attack that occurred on a background of over two years of disharmony in the marriage. While the specific cause of the marriage deterioration was not clear, on sentence the judge noted multiple contributing factors including their significant age difference, cultural differences and disagreements over parenting discipline style.
Short of a bureaucratic snafu, which is always possible, Australian convicted drug smuggler Schapelle Corby will be released on parole from Indonesia’s Kerobokan prison within days. She's breaking new ground.
Parole is relatively uncommon in Indonesia, primarily because parolees have to be accepted back into the community in which they intend to reside. Many communities have been unwilling to accept convicted criminals, but Corby’s sister Mercedes and Balinese brother-in-law, Wayan Widyartha, appear to have secured support from their local community in central Kuta.
Indonesian Justice Minister Amir Syamsuddin has said Corby will not receive any special consideration for or against as he considers some 1700 applications for parole over the next few days. She will, he says, be treated as would any other prisoner.
Corby has refused to acknowledge guilt over smuggling marijuana into Indonesia, which has been a significant factor in ensuring that she did not have her prison sentence fully commuted. However, this should not be a factor in whether or not she is paroled.
This is a positive sign for Corby, as there have been cases in the past where judicial decisions have been influenced by political considerations. Clearly, President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono does not consider Corby’s potential parole as a political issue, although he is attempting to put forward a candidate in this year’s presidential election in July, and despite the damaged state of Australia-Indonesia relations.
It shows, too, that the Indonesian judicial process is, or appears to be, operating in a straight and transparent manner, at least at the top. This has sometimes not been the case in the past.
As for Corby, assuming all goes according to plan, she will live with her sister and brother-in-law. She will be free to stay elsewhere in Indonesia, so long as she informs the local police of her intended whereabouts.
The catch, such as it is, is that she cannot leave Indonesia until her sentence is completed in 2016. She must also stay in Indonesia for a further year to assure Indonesian authorities that her parole has proven she is of reformed character.
On the scale of hardships, however, and especially after eight years in an Indonesian prison, living in Bali for the next three years should be relatively comfortable. This will be especially so if she is able to moderate any comments she might make to an enthusiastic media. Getting the local community offside with injudicious observations would be the last thing she would want over the coming months and years.
Perhaps the biggest adjustment that Corby will have to make is simply that of coming to terms with her prison experience. There have been indications, at different times, that she has been psychologically troubled by the experience.
More positively, that time will have ensured that Corby is at least familiar with the wider cultural mores of Indonesia generally and of Bali in particular. One would expect, too, after such time, she would have learned some Indonesian, which, although far from necessary in much of Bali, is always more rather than less helpful.
After her experience in prison, Corby’s next biggest challenge will be how she handles intense media attention. If she is able to secure a financially lucrative media deal, such as for an exclusive interview, she would be wise to be discreet about being rewarded, in effect, for her conviction for breaking the law.
Beyond that, we should not read into this parole any potential leniency for the so-called Bali Nine. They are still in very deep trouble.
There we were, sitting in a crowded room of a two-storey stone building dating back to when Bridgetown, Barbados, was a buccaneer and slaving settlement. Convicted Great Train Robber, escapee, Australian and Brazilian resident and Sex Pistols associate Ronald Biggs was sitting, handcuffed but smiling and happily relaxed in the dock, his theatrical local barrister resplendent in a tunic with red leg stripes, arguing his case.
That was April 1981. The air was soft, the water clear and, they say, the spliff was excellent.
Biggs had been recently kidnapped from Brazil by English bounty hunter mercenaries. Their boat had mechanical problems and they were rescued off Barbados, bringing into question the legal status of their involuntary shipmate.
I was a 25-year-old reporter, sent to cover the trial by a significant Australian newspaper, by way of inducement to leave El Salvador’s horrible and increasingly personalised civil war. Biggs was eminently sociable and ensured that he made eye contact with the media scrum on the benches. In the first stage of post-traumatic stress disorder, I nodded back.
Much of Bridgetown had been built by the British in the 17th century, after expelling the Spanish and Portuguese who had been there some 200 years previously. Apart from an airport, a requisite four star hotel and reggae, there was a sense that little had changed.
Biggs was by far the biggest thing that had happened to Barbados in a very long time. There were British tourists, jetting in and out. But it was otherwise "dreadlock holiday".
The British media was there, Biggs’ criminal notoriety having been given a further boost by his musically questionable appearance with remnant Sex Pistols on their video The Great Rock ‘n’ Roll Swindle. For a person who could not legally work in Brazil, he had traded socially for years on his reputation as a famous criminal, receiving small gifts from visitors to attend his Rio barbecues.
Ronald Biggs was one of the Great Train Robbers, who hoisted an estimated 2.6 million pounds (a significant fortune now) from the Glasgow-to-London mail train in 1963. Though no one was killed, the train driver, Jack Mills, was beaten so severely his injuries ended his working life.
Of the 13 convicted participants in the crime, Biggs was a minor player. However, the trial itself was a media sensation, and Biggs gained notoriety by getting over the walls of Wandsworth Prison in 1965 and escaping with his wife, Charmian, and two sons to Brussels, Paris and then Australia.
Biggs arrived in Sydney in 1966 and soon moved to Glenelg, in Adelaide, where he was joined by his wife and sons. The following year, and with a new child, they moved to Melbourne.
In 1969, it had become increasingly obvious that the infamous Ronald Biggs was in Melbourne. He was all across the local news. So he fled by ship to Panama, and then to Brazil where, by fathering a Brazilian child, he fought off extradition appeals by the UK government.
While living in Rio, Biggs became a local celebrity. One could buy T-shirts and coffee cups with his image. The remnant Sex Pistols teamed up for a quick punk recording of No One Is Innocent and Belsen Was A Gas, which made #7 on the UK charts.
In 1981, Biggs was kidnapped by ex-UK soldiers. But Barbados, small, only independent since 1966 and without many legal structures, had no extradition treaty with the UK. Biggs was returned to Brazil.
Biggs dragged out the rest of his minor celebrity with other punk bands and generous tourists, but chose to return to the UK in 2001. He was immediately returned to prison, but sought release on the basis of poor health. He was released in 2009, having served a third of his original sentence.
Biggs' health continued to be poor, and he suffered a series of strokes. Free from prison, he said he just wanted to see Christmas of 2009.
Ronald Biggs, 84, has fallen just short of seeing Christmas 2013.
Treasurer Joe Hockey warned on Tuesday of a "massive blowout" in the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) if the system wasn't made more efficient. This follows subtle re-positioning of the government's stance on the NDIS since the election.
Tony Abbott referred to the scheme as a “trial” rather than a “launch” after the recent COAG meetings. And back in November a key adviser to the government, the head of the Prime Minister’s Business Advisory Council Mr Maurice Newman, identified the NDIS as a “worthy cause”, but one which it was “reckless” to support in times of economic difficulty.
The “worthy cause” part of his speech is patronising, offensive and anachronistic; the “reckless” part is ill-informed and patently incorrect.
If you've ever travelled Ryanair in the UK or Europe, you'll understand why their unofficial motto is, "It's your fault".
It seems that having created a market for budget travellers, with no service, let alone no frills, CEO Micheal O'Leary, has been forced by market pressures to ease up on the no frills, and start to offer at least some elements of what could be termed the core offering of an airline. This may or may not mean the cessation of sales of lottery tickets on flights.
Huge numbers of travellers have travelled with Ryanair since its inception, and while complaining about it, have travelled in numbers large enough to keep it relatively sucessful (until now).
This article was first published on The Sydney Morning Herald website on 22 October 2013.
The O'Farrell government must reconsider their recommendation to retain a restricted version of the controversial partial defence of provocation.
An article published this week in the latest issue of Criminology and Criminal Justice reveals judicial and legal practitioner support for the abolition of the mandatory life sentence in the English criminal justice system. This blog post provides an overview of the research findings, access the full article here.