22 September 2008

Who Cares For or About Those in Gaol?

It is a pretty simple proposition - people in custody are owed a duty of care by the Government.

That has not stopped the AdelaideNow website from whipping up a story about compensation paid to prisoners injured in custody.

AdelaideNow... $230,000 paid to injured criminals

In fairness to Michael Owen, his article is quite balanced, but a different flavour is placed on it by the headline using the word "criminals" when the article is about "prisoners." Given the very high remand rates in South Australia, many of our "prisoners" have not been convicted of any charges they may face!

As can be seen in the readers' comments, this has planted the idea that somehow criminal offenders receive compensation for their crimes.

Fyodor Dostoyevsky said: "The degree of civilisation in a society is revealed by entering its prisons." Winston Churchill said that a society's attitude to its prisoners, its "criminals", is the measure of "the stored up strength of a nation".

I wonder what those men would have thought of these comments?

9 September 2008

The point of Gaol

We often read or see reports about Court cases where people are complaining that an offender should have received a longer gaol term, or should not have had the term suspended.

So often, what is not asked is the simple question: "Why?"

If the State is going to keep people in gaol, there needs to be a reason. It must be done to achieve a purpose for society.

It is often said that penalties need to be increased to reduce the incidence of crime. In fact, there is little evidence that increased penalties for crimes reduce their frequency. People in Britain still used to steal when the penalty was transportation to Australia - and that was long before this country was the destination of choice for British migrants!

Countries with much lower penalties for many crimes often have no greater crime rate than those with much higher penalties.

One often misquoted example is Singapore. Here in Australia there seems to be a view that penalties there are harsher, but that it not the case for many serious crimes. Assault for example has a maximum penalty of three months in Singapore, but in South Australia it is 2 years, or 3 years if aggravated, or 4 years if a weapon is used. And that is for assaults that cause no harm - if harm is caused, then the penalties go up even further.

Whether there is any benefit in putting someone in gaol has been the subject of some work in Britain:

Jail is no place for the average prisoner - Times Online
Louis Blom-Cooper, an icon in his own right at the Bar, has chosen to place his latest book. Launched last week, its central thesis is that 60 per cent of the prison population should not be there. The QC describes imprisonment as "an instrument of man's control over his fellow creatures" which has existed since historical records began. Its role as the "State's prime weapon of penal sanction for serious crime", is, he argues, more recent.
So why do we keep doing it? Increased penalties have done nothing to stop the so-called "Gang of 49."

All it seems to lead to is a higher crime rate, lack of rehabilitation, and an increasing cost to the Government of keeping people there.

21 July 2008

Excuse me, Kevin Rudd would like to make an Appointment

Probably largely un-noticed by the general population, there is a flurry of activity in legal circles about who will be the next Chief Justice of the High Court.

The speculation is spilling out into the mainstream media, with Chief Justice John Doyle, of the South Australian Supreme Court, rated as a 'top contender' by AdelaideNow

There is the strange anomaly that no South Australian has ever been appointed to the High Court bench, and our Chief Justice would make an excellent choice.

Of course they see things differently in the East!

This article in the Sydney Morning Herald seems to tip New South Wales Supreme Court Chief Justice Jim Spigelman.

And in Brisbane, the Courier Mail seems to thing that the best bet is Justice Patrick Keane, from the Queensland Court of Appeal.

Well, it could be worse - we could be in a country with elected Judges! Or one with no Judges at all!

21 June 2008

Attorney General less than Ecstatic

Sandra Kanck has found herself the subject of criticism yet again.

This time it is for suggesting that one solution for those Vietnam Veterans suffering with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder might be the therapeutic use of 3,4-MDMA, commonly known as Ecstacy.

Perhaps because Ecstasy is better known as an illegal drug, this has attracted a lot of criticism.

AdelaideNow... Kanck blasts Atkinson ecstasy 'no'
Mr Atkinson said the Government would "not be supporting Sandra Kanck's latest rave" and "Vietnam Veterans are not laboratory mice for a left-wing social experiment."
There has also been criticism from the RSL on the basis that it would be using Vietnam Veterans as research subjects.

What this ignores is the fact that the therapeutic use of Ecstasy has been studied, and indeed the history of the drug is that it was developed for therapeutic use.

See this List of Research Studies

Once it was made illegal, though, it seems that any suggestion of using it is ridiculed.

Many of the drugs that are abused are perfectly legal - benzodiazepines are very widely abused, as are morphine and methadone.

But somehow it is OK to give them to Vietnam Veterans, even though they provide no long-term solutions.

17 June 2008

A New Beginning

As those of you who follow my radio show would already know, my law firm has moved to new premises.

After many years of operating out of the old "Port Adelaide Providores" building in Lipson St at Port Adelaide, we have now moved to a converted cottage at 18 Market St Adelaide. This is so much easier for our clients to get to - whether they are coming by car, or using public transport.

Here is a map of where we are: Google Map

We also have a new phone number - (08) 8410-0666 and the saga about getting the phone system installed is a story in itself!

For those of you who loved the old building, there is the opportunity to buy it!! Check it out here

We are all very excited about our new beginning, and look forward to being able to do an even better job of looking after all of our clients.

19 May 2008

Anger Mangement

These days it seems that we are beset by people in a rage of one sort or another. Road rage, telephone rage, my burger is cold rage etc etc.

Well, why don't we send all these people on an Anger Management course?

It seems that they might not be effective for everyone, like Justin Boudin in Minnesota! Weird Cases: temper, temper - Times Online

But to top it all off comes this tale of Judge Rage Weird Cases: judges at war - Times Online

Makes a bit of fist shaking at the Britannia Roundabout seem positively civilised!!

18 May 2008

DNA Evidence

We are all familiar with the use of DNA evidence in Criminal cases, and it is becoming quite common.

In Dallas County, Texas, however, there have now been 17 prisoners cleared by the use of DNA evidence to look at historical convictions. They include James Woodard, who has spent 27 years in gaol after prosecutors in his case withheld evidence from the defence.

You can read more about it here at CNN.

The part of the story that really disturbed me was the suggestion that it seems to have been a regular thing for evidence to be withheld by prosecutors, and that they would resist moves to prosecute them for it! There is a whole world of difference between an honest mistake, and a deliberate withholding of evidence.

It is interesting that this also comes at a time when the UK is looking at using prosecutors who are employed, rather than members of the independant Bar, and is one of the reasons given in favour of retaining the current system. Read more in this article at The Times online

Here in South Australia, trials are usually prosecuted by employees of the Director of Public Prosecutions, with some being briefed to Barristers, depending on workload. Perhaps because the profession here is fairly small, it does not seem to be a problem - any prosecutor who withheld evidence would soon lose all credibility in the profession.

What do you think we need to safeguard this?