Image for Parliament should reject ‘jail without justice’ plan

Australia’s Parliament should not keep people locked in jail after they have served their sentences: it would be against the advice of Australian statesmen a century apart, and an attack on the rule of law.

In a submission to the Security Committee, Civil Liberties Australia quoted Alfred Deakin in 1912 and current Attorney-General, Senator George Brandis, in 2014 as statesmen who have spoken eloquently in defence of not taking away the rights of the citizen.

In a speech in Parliament in 1912, Alfred Deakin outlined a vision for Australia:

“It means the full calling forth of all the powers, abilities, qualities, and characters of the people of Australia, not their suppression as citizens…”.

Attorney-General Brandis, commissioning a two-year review of the nation’s liberties, rights and freedoms by the Australian Law Reform Commission in 2014, eloquently summed up the danger of allowing bureaucratic fear to swamp individual rights:

“For too long we have seen freedoms of the individual diminish and become devalued. The Coalition Government will strive to protect and restore them. Freedoms are some of the most fundamental of all human rights. They underpin the principles of democracy and we cannot take them for granted.”

The Security Committee is taking submissions on a proposal to keep people in jail, after they have served 10- or 15-year terrorism sentences, based solely on guesswork as to what they might do in future after release.

A judge could decide to keep the person in jail, without any “due process”: that is, without charge, production of evidence, hearing in a courtroom, and conviction by a jury or judge.

“If the Australian Parliament allows this law to pass, it will have changed the nature of Australian democracy: we will have jail without justice,” CLA CEO Bill Rowlings said.

“We will have joined those countries who lock up people without trial if they don’t agree with the government. We will be jailing on suspicion without giving a person a day in court. We will have abandoned the principled legal basis of our Constitution.

“In future, ‘jail without justice’ laws could extend to anyone who disagrees with the Australian government: refugee protestors, unionists, students…all of them likely to continue their anti-government protests if released from jail.”

He said Australia lacked a Bill of Rights because the 19th century drafters believed that the traditional rights and freedoms of British subjects were sufficiently guaranteed by the parliamentary system and an independent judiciary under the Australian Constitution.

“Passing this ‘jail without justice’ law would demonstrate the Australian Parliament is no longer a guarantor of traditional rights and freedoms,” he said. “If the Parliament passes this law, we the people need the protection of a Charter or Bill of Rights.”

“Civil Liberties Australia calls on the judiciary to state clearly and unequivocally, in advance, that they they would not take part in such a travesty of justice as locking people up in jail, beyond their sentences, for what the government thinks they might do.” 

*Bill Rowlings is Chief Executive Officer of Civil Liberties Australia.

• Bill Rowlings in Comments: TasTimes readers might like to note that, of the four men in the front page newspaper illustration with this article, Abdirahman Ahmed and Yacqub Khayre were found not guilty. Three other men were found guilty of a terrorist conspirary to attack Sydney’s Holsworthy Barracks. In raids on the men’s homes, no weapons were found, but “police alleged the men intended to buy automatic weapons for a suicide attack on the Holsworthy base…” (Australian, 24 Dec 2010). If kept in jail (as a result of the proposed new law) at the end of their 18-year sentences, these men would be serving time for what they might do after release from jail following a conviction over weapons that they might have bought and what they might have done.