Law

The title of this book, Guilty Pigs, is a reference to the medieval practice of bringing animals and insects to trial and/or punishing them for their conduct, such as killing humans, or destroying orchards, crops, and vineyards, or, in one case, chewing the records of ecclesiastical proceedings. The behaviour of the animal or insect determined whether proceedings were brought in secular or ecclesiastical jurisdictions. A charge of homicide would be initiated in secular tribunals, where domesticated animals such as pigs, cows, and horses were tried and punished, invariably by pronouncement of the death penalty. When animals and insects such as rats, mice, locusts, and weevils invaded houses, fields, or orchards, proceedings were brought in ecclesiastical courts, which eschewed the death penalty, instead excommunicating the hapless defendant.

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In an age of disinformation, whistleblowers such as Julian Assange and Edward Snowden have been accorded the status of folk heroes. And yet, as their respective cases show, no other act of public service is harried as ruthlessly and vindictively by governments whose secrets have been aired. In this episode of The ABR Podcast, listen to Kieran Pender read his cover feature for the April issue, in which he argues for stronger whistleblower protections by examining the case of Bernard Collaery.

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On the first day of March this year, Scott Morrison declared his commitment to democratic principles. ‘My government will never be backward when it comes to standing up for Australia’s national interests and standing up for liberal democracy in today’s world,’ the prime minister told reporters. ‘We can’t be absent when it comes to standing up for those important principles.’ It was a deeply hypocritical statement from a leader who has overseen raids on journalists, the prosecution of whistleblowers, and the degradation of transparency mechanisms at the heart of our democracy. Standing up for important democratic principles is just about the opposite of what the Morrison government has done, domestically at least, in recent years. The secrecy-shrouded prosecution of Bernard Collaery makes that abundantly clear.

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Drew Rooke begins A Witness of Fact in the viewing gallery of Adelaide’s Forensic Science Centre, his eyes scanning the stainless steel benchtops, scissors, ladles, a pair of ‘large, heavy-duty shears used for cutting through ribs’, and an arsenal of knives of different styles and sizes – ‘what you would see in a commercial kitchen’. The atmosphere is cool, sterile, and menacing. This is where disgraced forensic pathologist Colin Manock worked for thirty years. Given that this book is about Manock, the opening could be confused with scene-setting. But there is a deeper significance to the author’s choice of words, one that goes to the heart of his book: what transforms knives in a commercial kitchen into specialist tools of medical forensics? 

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When World War II began, a defence regulation was issued in Great Britain that enabled the home secretary to imprison anyone who they reasonably believed had hostile associations. One such interned individual, Robert Liversidge, objected to his detention and challenged the validity of the home secretary’s decision. In the subsequent case, Liversidge v Anderson, the House of Lords adopted a deferential approach, holding that in a time of war it was inappropriate for the courts to subject the home secretary’s decision making to much scrutiny. But in a thundering dissent, Brisbane-born Lord James ‘Dick’ Atkin disagreed. ‘In England, amid the clash of arms, the laws are not silent,’ he wrote. ‘They may be changed, but they speak the same language in war as in peace.’

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The age of Artificial Intelligence (AI) has arrived, though not so much an age of sentient robots as one of ubiquitous data collection and analysis fuelling automated decisions, categorisations, predictions, and recommendations in all walks of life. The stakes of AI-enabled decision-making may be as serious as life and death (Spanish police use a system called VioGén to forecast domestic violence) or as trivial as the arrangement of pizza-toppings.

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During the early 1980s, in a series of attacks on the Family Court in Sydney, a judge was shot dead outside his home, while bombs killed another judge’s wife and injured a third judge and his children as they slept. The man behind these and other attacks, Leonard Warwick, was involved in a custody dispute with his ex-wife over the care of their young daughter, but it would be thirty-five years before the crimes were solved and he was convicted of three murders and the bombings. Media commentators, meanwhile, wondered what had driven the culprit to such violence. Elizabeth Evatt, the court’s then chief justice, described the media’s response: ‘They said, “The Court has been bombed, what’s wrong with the Court?”’

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The street entrance to the Melbourne Magistrates’ Court is a scoop-hungry gauntlet of journos who spend the day jostling for soundbites, ever ready to give chase. As a rookie reporter, Louise Milligan used to be part of the Sydney court scrum, but when she arrived to give evidence in Australia’s ‘Trial of the Decade’, she had become the story. In her investigative work for ABC’s Four Corners – which begat the Walkley Book Award-winning volume Cardinal: The rise and fall of George Pell (2017)Milligan had been the first person to hear one of the criminal accusations against the Vatican’s disgraced treasurer

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The timing was apt. In September, Fake Law: The truth about justice in an age of lies – written by pseudonymous British writer ‘The Secret Barrister’ – was published in Australia. The same month, President Donald Trump nominated Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court of the United States following the untimely death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg. From two legal systems that have historically influenced ours came salutary warnings about the ill effects of law’s politicisation.

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There is a senior partner at my firm who famously harasses young women particularly when he has been drinking at social events. I was groped on two separate occasions. Nothing was done about it the first time I reported it. I did not report it the second time.

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