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Beware the confirmation bias

Working on the ABC Radio National program, Talking Shop, has reminded me how important it is to not just look for evidence that supports your position. Knowing that you are broadcasting to a diverse, highly intelligent, and sometimes strongly opinioned audience, is a good reminder to be confident in your arguments, and also in your opinions.

Doing the show has reinforced the idea that we do need to be vigilant about the confirmation bias, which is the very human tendency to focus on data and information that confirms our currently held beliefs, and ignore (or dismiss) data that challenges it.

Baird must revisit mandatory sentencing laws

This article was first published in the Sydney Morning Herald on 21 April 2014.

Following last week’s resignation of Barry O’Farrell and the appointment of Mike Baird as premier, it is now time to get back to the key criminal justice issue in NSW: the prevention of alcohol-fuelled violence. 

Justice prevails in lethal violence reforms

This article was first published on The Age website on 27 June 2014.

Victorian Attorney-General Robert Clark has called time of death for the offence of defensive homicide. The government's bill, which was introduced in Parliament on Wednesday, represents a significant step forward in ensuring just responses to lethal violence in the Victorian criminal justice system.

Victorian homicide law reforms ensure just responses to violence

This article was first published on The Conversation on 26 June 2014.

Victorian attorney-general Robert Clark today introduced a bill into parliament that repeals the offence of defensive homicide. The bill signifies a significant step forward in ensuring just responses to lethal violence in the state’s criminal court system.

While reforming homicide law has been a long process, the bill introduced today is a significant step forward for Victoria.

'Slow, expensive, complicated' legal system must be improved

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?

The injustice of the provocation defence in NSW continues...

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.

All Under the Family’s Control?

ASADA, the AFL and WADA - The Main Game

Schapelle slips the system, but faces a world of attention

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.

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