ABC Radio National’s Lingua Franca has been running a series of programs on the language of the law in the David Hicks case—that’s “case” in the generic sense, of course, not in the sense of a legal action decided in a properly constituted court. All three programs are well worth listening to, even if you already suspect that certain ancient legal precepts shouldn’t just be tossed out without a thought even if these are the Last Days. Each is only fifteen minutes long and they’re all available online: there’s Julian Burnside QC on habeas corpus and hearsay, and Peter Vickery QC on ex post facto or retroactive legislation. Transcripts are available for the first two and should be up for the last one soon, but listen to them if you can: they’re as concise and persuasive as you’d expect.
Burnside comes to some particularly frank conclusions about our various leaders. On habeas corpus, the idea that nobody should be detained unless the reason for their detention can be assessed by a competent court:
The principle of legality carries with it the assumption that the lawfulness of executive action is examinable in the courts. Liberty is one of the most fundamental and cherished of all rights. Where a person is deprived of their liberty, habeas corpus is the device which enables the lawfulness of the detention to be examined.
Stripping away the habeas right for detainees at Guantanamo is a step of such awesome significance that it is tempting to think that President Bush has lost his mind.
And then on the admission of hearsay evidence and evidence obtained by coercion:
An Australian citizen, held by our ally America, is about to be subjected to a trial in which hearsay evidence and evidence produced by coercion is permitted. A trial of this sort offends the most basic principles of our justice system, but Philip Ruddock says he is satisfied it will be a fair trial. If he actually believes it, he is not fit to be attorney-general.
There was a time when only refugees were terrified of Philip Ruddock: now we all should be.
A Newspoll last December found that 70% of respondents wanted David Hicks returned to Australia, and another in January found that 56% were against the way the Government had handled the case; only 27% were in favour. The usual nutcases continue to marvel at Hicks’s ongoing popularity despite the overwhelming evidence that the guy is at best a dickhead and at worst really wants to kill a bunch of us. They think we’ve been persuaded by lawyers in snappy uniforms or we can’t believe that a top bloke like Terry Hicks could have a son who’s a terrorist.
It shouldn’t need repeating, but for the benefit of the professional trolletariat: we are not gay for David Hicks. We don’t think he’s dreamy. Few of us even think he’s a harmless idiot. But he is an Australian citizen being denied fundamental human rights, and the fact that our Government is doing so little about it is shameful and terrifying.
This country’s planted thick with laws from coast to coast…and if you cut them down…d’you really think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then?
Burnside leaves out the last bit, though, which is really the whole point:
Yes, I’d give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety’s sake.
There are many poor wretches out there who are less guilty than Hicks and are treated worse. But Hicks is our wretch. We can influence his treatment more than we can anyone else’s. And if we choose not to, then we give up a lot of credibility that we might use to suggest that other countries treat their own unfortunates better. You know, if we were into that sort of thing.
Bring the bastard home!