Wednesday, March 10, 2004


Excerpts from an article by Miranda Devine

Judges and other lawyers seem increasingly troubled by the advent in the past decade of victims' rights groups and associated community criticism of the justice system. They frequently castigate the media for "sensational" reporting and accuse it of whipping up contempt for the law. But what they seem not to understand is that community anger about inadequate sentences and a disregard for the rights of victims stems from a genuine sense of injustice.

What's more, the values of the lawyerly class from which judges and magistrates are drawn are more liberal than those of the community in general, and therefore it is no surprise that courts are increasingly out of touch with the feelings of the people they serve.

One example is the decision last week by the NSW Court of Criminal Appeal to order a retrial of Tayyab Sheikh in connection with the gang rape of a Ms T in 2002, because of media coverage of an earlier trial of Sheikh's four co-accused.

"The feelings of anger, revulsion and general hostility to young Lebanese men that emanated from the media coverage of the earlier trial would have lingered heavily in the atmosphere," wrote Justices James Wood and Keith Mason.

The decision, which was split 2-1, with Justice Brian Sully dissenting, indicates that Sheikh's jury did not obey the clear and repeated instructions of the trial judge, Michael Finnane, to ignore information they heard outside the courtroom. But you are either going to trust juries, the cornerstone of our criminal justice system, or you are not. In an era of 24/7 news, it stands to reason jurors will be exposed to information. If they are not to be trusted to obey their oath then every jury trial becomes a joke......

For 22-year-old Ms T, Sheikh's retrial will be the fourth time she has had to testify. She has agreed to do so and Cunneen will prosecute the case.

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