Monday 25 August 2003

Political Prisoners

I realise that to many readers, the story of how a right-wing politician got 3 years in pokey in far-off Australia isn't of great worth and moment. But it's my country, and it's important to me.

From the ABC :
Federal Liberal MP Bronwyn Bishop has described jailed One Nation founder Pauline Hanson as a political prisoner.

Mrs Bishop says Hanson has been jailed for three years because of differences in electoral laws between the Commonwealth, where her party was properly registered, and in Queensland, where it was not.

She says the Electoral Commission accepted the registration and has described her jailing as a political act.

"The bottom line is there are a lot of people who didn't like what she said - I'm one of them, I didn't like a lot of what she said, in fact most of the things she said," Mrs Bishop said.

"But the important point is this: this is a free country. There's freedom of speech and we now have someone who's a political prisoner and I find that totally and utterly unacceptable."

The text of the Full Judgement (pdf) is also interesting. Not for what it says, but for what it doesn't say. Now IANAL (I Am Not A Lawyer), but I have read an awful (accent on the awful) lot of reports of cases in my career.

In sentencing, in many jurisdictions here in Oz, the judge has to say what matters have been considered in coming to the judgement. If they miss out anything that they should have considered, the way is left open for an appeal ( which may or may not be successful). At least, that's what appears to be the case in many courts, from this layman's view. Remember, IANAL.

The usual formula is something like this:
I have considered the fact that this is your first offense. I have considered the affirmations of your Good Chararacter by the Pope, the Dalai Lama, the Prime Minister, and the Head of the UN. I have considered your 12 starving children and wife, to whom you are the sole care-giver, and your aged parents, who depend on your income for their medical expenses. I have considered your complete co-operation with the Police, your early plea of guilty, and your expressions of remorse. I have examined whether a non-custodial sentence would be appropriate, given the Council for the Defence's contention that since the recent amputation of both your legs, you would be unable to exceed the speed limit on your bicycle by 3 miles per hour and thus re-offend. I have taken into account the Defence's contention that the forty-nine other cases of similar conduct involving bicycles since 1900 resulted in a maximum penalty of a ten dollar fine. I have considered the Prosecution's contention that a single case in 1348 of "furious Driving" of a runaway horse resulted in the miscreant being imprisoned in the Tower of London for three years, and have followed this case. I am pursuaded that your offense is in the most serious category, and sentence should serve as a deterrent. I therefore sentence you to two years in prison.
It's perfectly OK to completely ignore mitigating circumstances, and to neglect anything the Defence says, slavishly following the Prosecution's every word, no matter how outrageous. But you have to at least say in the judgement that you've considered these issues, even if you obviously ignored them as being irrelevant. There's no sign in the judgement that any possibility of a non-custodial sentence crossed Chief Justice Patsy Wolfe's mind, nor indeed that any words regarding mitigating facts from the Defence were spoken.

It seems odd that a judge of Patsy Wolfe's calibre should make such an elementary error, and hand down such an obviously grotesque sentence. Still, IANAL, and the jurisdiction is Queensland, where they do things rather differently - this may not be an error at all in that jurisdiction. I say again, IANAL, and especially not a Queensland Lawyer. But just maybe it's not inadvertant, and she's neither the Government's Wolf, nor the Government's Patsy.

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