Law And Order
Without the quick thinking of a stranger with a camera and gripping running commentary all while defying the police, we would not have heard of Jamie Jackson.
He is the young man who was charged with assaulting a Liverpool police officer after the Mardi Gras parade. Footage recorded by a passer by depicts a boyish-looking Jackson, 18, face down with an officer’s boot in his back, bleeding from the head and crying. You almost expect the next words out of his mouth to be “I want my mum”.
It’s a graphic picture of a power imbalance. But many more accused criminals may find themselves falling face first into an imbalanced criminal justice system should the top brass get their way.
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A young Brazilian university student runs disorientated down a busy Sydney street, visibly distressed. He darts into a nearby convenience store, steals a packet of biscuits and rushes back out. A bystander witnesses his erratic behaviour and calls police.
Shortly after, Roberto Laudisio Curti is chased by police, thrashing his arms around as he tries to escape. The officers catch up and he is pushed to the ground and handcuffed, held down with the help of up to 11 officers, capsicum sprayed and tasered repeatedly as he lies in agony on the ground. By the time an ambulance arrives, Roberto is dead.
A 14-year-old boy, recently released from a rehab clinic, gets into a violent confrontation at a party on the New South Wales mid-north coast. police are called and the boy flees. Shortly after, he is captured by police hiding in a caravan park. After struggling with police, he was pepper sprayed and then Tasered. In the video of the incident, the boy is seen huddled over as Taser volts run through his body. He screams and cries in agony.
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I am not a massive fan of those crime shows on the telly but there is one thing I have noticed about them which they all have in common.
As a general rule, crime shows are either set in a tough, gritty city, such as CSI Miami, or involve dogged if jaded cops on the edge of policing at its most brutal, such as Law and Order: Special Victims Unit.
It is probably for this reason that no producer has made a show called Law and Order: Speed Cameras, which chronicles the life and times of a hard-bitten copper who spends his days pointing a laser gun at passing Commodores in that confusing 70 km/h zone just outside of Swan Hill.
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Many of us wouldn’t know about the Right to Silence - a good thing. It’s only when you experience a criminal trial, either as the victim or the accused, that you will be exposed to this part of our justice system which provides the accused with, amongst other things, the right to not take the stand throughout their trial.
It’s a shock for most victims, who by the way, are not afforded this luxury, as they enter the courtroom seeking answers which often will not come.
More than 750,000 matters are initiated within the court system each year, with the vast majority (85%) resulting in guilty pleas and immediate sentencing. But there are some crimes that have spectacularly low plead rates, and arguably are those cases where victims are most vulnerable.
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Vigilantes are often portrayed as heroes in the movies. Clint Eastwood has made a career out of acting the part. But Eastwood’s not the best example of a modern day vigilante. I always picked him as more of a 4WD kinda’ guy, instead of someone who zooms around the inner suburbs of your nearest city perched on a bike and decked out in lycra.
As our open thread reported yesterday, an online community of Sydney cyclists are hunting down the occupants of a dark red Mitsubishi, who are alleged to have attacked a cyclist with fists and, oddly enough, batteries. The drivers are no fans of Le Tour de France, that’s for sure. “Energise THIS, Lance Armstrong!”
The cyclist in question, Chris Moore, doesn’t want vengeance. He says he isn’t going to press charges. “I think a better outcome would be if these people were able to gain a bit of insight, and empathise with other road users,” he wrote on Reddit.
Not every vigilante would be so compassionate though. I’m sure Clint wouldn’t. And technology’s made taking justice into your own hands that much easier - which isn’t always a good thing.
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About fifteen years ago I spent an inordinate amount of time at One Nation meetings.
The organisation was formed at Sydney’s iconic Rooty Hill RSL, where the parmigianas hang off your plate, and where Pauline Hanson made her first appearance as the party’s national leader before an adoring throng. The adulation was repeated across Australia, at the Gympie Town Hall and Caloundra RSL, in the logging communities of Gippsland, the pensioner enclaves of Bermagui and Batemans Bay.
One Nation received a hefty one million votes at the 1998 election. Its support came from disparate sources – blue-collar voters who disputed the free trade consensus between the major parties, oldies yearning for a whiter Australia – but the political ballast of the party’s support came from tragedy and its aftermath, the 1996 Port Arthur Massacre, which prompted John Howard to implement a national guns buyback just two months into his prime ministership.
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Vince Focarelli – alleged leader of the feared New Boys street gang and, briefly, an Adelaide group of Comancheros bikies – had already walked away from three attempts on his life.
It seemed unlikely that those who wished him harm were about to stop trying.
Last weekend, Focarelli’s aura of invincibility was shattered with tragic results. A hail of gunfire left the man himself with a head wound and claimed the life of his son Giovanni, who was just 22.
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In Texas and in many other parts of the US, the government has hit upon a neat new approach to dealing with troublesome students in schools. Instead of old-fashioned methods like detention or sitting in the corner of the classroom, the State has employed a legion of armed police to patrol the state’s school corridors.
That means hundreds of students are finding themselves charged in the school grounds with offences such as ‘disrupting class’ and are being forced to appear in court. For many, the charges lead to prison terms, in what has been described as a ‘schools-to-prison’ pipeline.
These are not rare or extreme cases. This is not a nightmare vision conjured up in the pages of a George Orwell novel. In fact right now, hundreds of students are being charged daily with offences ranging from swearing in school, being late to school, playing up on the school bus, smoking cigarettes or wearing inappropriate clothing. In 2010 close to 300 000 tickets were issued to schoolchildren as young as six in schools - resulting in fines, community service and prison terms.
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Commercial aviation is the safest form of travel because the industry has learnt from past accidents by abolishing the culture of blame.
The Costa Concordia disaster is the cruise ship industry’s chance to improve safety and ensure that avoidable tragedy never happens again, but that chance will be missed if only one man pays the price.
In Italian courtrooms there is a sign which suggests: La legge e’ uguale per tutti – the law is the same for everyone. There is no asterisk on the sign, though it should be noted the term “everyone: does in fact mean “everyone except some”, including former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, who conveniently changed the law while in office to spare himself prosecution, and, more recently, the captain of the Costa Concordia Francesco Schettino, who shall be afforded no such privilege.
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My illness is psychiatric in nature. It’s biological. It lurks in everybody’s genome, and is active in mine.
The name of my illness is weighty. It’s called Seasonally Affected Bi-polar Disorder 1. As opposed to the very brainy Stephen Fry, who reminds us of the severity of mine by calling his Bi-polar 2 (facetiously) Bi-Polar Lite.
An illness that slowly over the years, with many lengthy hospital stays, has become manageable. No longer visible to the naked eye, even. To the point that I work, study, raise a family and participate at all levels of the society as best I am able, good health permitting.
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Hanging upside down at the top of a pole, wearing nothing but a black G-string, the skinny, brunette dancer has no problem attracting the attention of everyone in the venue.
With eight inch heels she then twirls down the pole – still upside down – to flip and finish with the splits at the bottom.
Looking around, there is not one person in sight who appears to be over-intoxicated, no one throwing punches and no one who appears to be off their face on drugs either.
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Imagine heading off to Christmas lunch in a few weeks, having a few soft drinks and a big chunk of brandy-soaked Christmas pudding, only to have to get a taxi home because you’re over the drink driving limit.
Sounds a little stupid but that could be the reality considering the new drink-driving discussion points from the Australian Transport Council. And if you’ve been taking cough medicine at the same time then you’re really in trouble.
In the new National Road Safety Strategy it’s suggested that the legal limit for alcohol in drivers be reduced to either 0.02 or even zero. Not that there’s really any difference between the two.
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There was a single sentence in the news coverage of this weekend’s Byron Bay schoolies brawl which was buried at the bottom of the story, but could have been a story in its own right. “The schoolies congregated in the park because the lines to get into Byron’s four main pubs and clubs were 100m-plus long.”
The decision to get drunk and act like a jerk is a personal decision. But without excising personal responsibility from the debate, it is also worth examining the environment in which young people make the sort of choices which end up with them sleeping in their own spew in a park, sleeping with someone for the first time while bordering on comatose, sleeping in a police cell because they’ve punched someone for looking at them the wrong way.
It’s an environment which has been created by adults who have a massive commercial interest in Australia’s youth drinking culture.
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Earlier this year Tony Abbott warned us that we should be wary of taking seriously those comments he makes about policy when speaking off the cuff. Presumably, his suggestion in a community forum this week that Australia might consider moving to elect its judges falls into this category. We can only hope that is the case.
Anxiety over perceived leniency in criminal sentencing is never too far from the surface of public discussion and as a result we might expect that politicians have given the issue some thought before they express an opinion.
Certainly it is hard to credit that a political figure as senior as Mr Abbott would be caught off guard when quizzed about judges, sentencing and community values, as he was at the Brisbane forum.
What exactly did the Leader of the Opposition say? “I never want lightly to change our existing systems, but I’ve got to say if we don’t get a better sense of the punishment fitting the crime, this is almost inevitable. If judges don’t treat this kind of thing appropriately, sooner or later, we will do something that we’ve never done in this country. We will elect judges. And we will elect judges that will better reflect want we think is our sense of anger at this kind of thing.”
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In February, a teenage p-plate driver and one of his passengers were killed on the Sunshine Coast Queensland, after colliding with an oncoming car in wet conditions.
In Victoria, five people were killed on impact when their out of control car hit a tree at a reported 140 km/h, the driver was 19 and on p-plates. He was carrying too many passengers, one occupant wasn’t wearing a seat belt and the driver had a blood-alcohol reading of 0.19 - well above the zero limit.
And in January, a 17 year old teenage girl on the NSW South Coast was killed instantly when she drove into a tree, also injuring her three passengers. One of those passengers, a 15 year old girl, was so critically injured as a result of the crash; she lost both her legs and sustained serious neck and chest injuries.
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One night recently on a suburban Melbourne train, several young teenagers—some reportedly as young as 13 or 14 years of age—terrorised a carriage full of innocent passengers who were returning from a day out at the football.
Purportedly this bunch of pimple-faced brats pelted rocks at the windows of the train and threatened the frightened passengers, including elderly people and young children.
Meanwhile, on another suburban train, a young woman was smashed over the head with a bottle in an unprovoked attack by a group of hostile teenage girls, resulting in several stitches to her head. What is wrong with these kids? And why should innocent people have to put up with this?
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When it comes to illicit drugs and how our society should best deal with its impact, Ken Crispin is one man to whom it is worth listening.
Crispin has been practicing law since 1972, but more relevantly, he was the Director of Public Prosecutions in the ACT from 1991 to 1994 and a judge in that jurisdiction until 2007. So this is why Crispin has made a bit of a splash over the past week by arguing that the US lead ‘War on Drugs’ which was debated and passed by Congress forty years this month, is failing our community.
Crispin, in his recently published book The Quest for Justice, has dared to say what many Australian judges and magistrates think privately to be the case. That treating illicit drug use as a criminal justice problem has not worked and will never work.
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About 100 nautical miles off the Australian coast on the first night of a cruise, Dianne Brimble accepted a dose of the illicit drug Fantasy from a man she barely knew.
Mark Wilhelm gave her the drug, that he admits - but the offer of a drug alone does not amount to manslaughter. This was the personal assessment of a Supreme Court of NSW judge Roderick Howie yesterday, as he took a guilty plea from Mark Robin Wilhelm to the supply of Fantasy to Ms Brimble - and he’s right.
As much as her bereaved family and others may have looked to a manslaughter conviction for vindication, the NSW DPP rightly revealed today they would no longer prosecute him for manslaughter.
We should cut the coppers some slack as they grapple with the public handling of the attacks on Indian students in Melbourne.
Policing has long been a closed culture. Less than a generation ago the only way police reporters could get stories was to spend months or even years hanging around the Police Club, drinking with detectives and slowly building enough trust to get the inside running on big stories. These days, whenever a cat gets stuck up a tree there’s an expectation that an all-in press conference will follow within the hour to discuss its breed, name, and how the pesky little varmint got up there in the first place.
There is no point in police complaining about this. It’s a reflection of the public’s legitimate conviction that information should flow freely from every arm of government. People have a right to know what is happening in their community and, these days, it is the job of the police to tell them.
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According to the office of NSW Corrective Services Minister John Robertson between 1200 and 1400 people are granted parole in NSW each month.
For the first time yesterday Mr Robertson, egged on by a frenzied shadow attorney general and a public baying for blood, demanded a parole ruling be “vacated”.
Eighteen years ago on November 11 Phillip Choon Tee Lim was sentenced to 24 years in jail, with a non-parole period of 18 years for his part in the murder of heart surgeon Victor Chang.
At a recent hearing the State Parole Authority, considering reports of his good behaviour, granted his parole application and ordered he be released from Parramatta Jail on that date. John Robertson says “I don’t think it’s enough,” and in doing so has tried to change the rules forever.
TO a graffiti vandal, it’s the equivalent of a madman running through the Louvre with a knife at night slashing the Mona Lisa and other canvases. A secret squirt squad is systematically defacing illegal “artworks” daubed along Melbourne’s train lines by painting the letters “CTCV” over the top.
The anonymous vigilantes are bombarding hundreds of sites across the rail network with their simple tag, prompting cries of foul play from graffiti crews.
Outraged vandals have accused employees of train operator Connex, and also the transit police, of somehow orchestrating the blitz as some sort of bizarre “tit for tat” campaign to wipe out street art.
In 2006, I was driving out of Beirut airport in the backseat of a taxi when I had a horrible thought. Around me, cars were driving in and out of lanes, zipping past one another in dangerous manoeuvres and in disturbing excess of the speed limit, over packed with passengers sticking their arms, legs and even their heads out of windows.
Some were even joy riding on the roof of the vehicles in question, though this had more to do with a bizarre system of car pooling than anything else.
But my horrible thought did not in fact revolve around this chaos, but in the fact that in the midst of this was a lone police officer, driving along in relative calm as if blissfully unaware of the throngs of madness around him, but doing so because the scene I just painted was simply a part of the everyday and he no longer had a role in it. Would life in Australia ever be the same?
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