AN OVERSIGHT committee manned by a panel of legal experts has been formed by the Australian Lawyers Alliance (ALA) to advise the Australian Government on the second proposed military commission system to try David Hicks.
President of the ALA, Simon Morrison, will work with notable QCs Tom Percy and Julian Burnside in an effort to provide the Government with a pool of legal wisdom besides that which arrives packaged in the form of US assurances.
“Last time around our Australian Government was assured by the US Government that the process was proper. It turned out that is wasn’t, courtesy of the Supreme Court judgment,” Morrison said.
“We want to have a close look at it this time, to give advice to the Australian Government so that it doesn’t simply rely on assurances from other governments.”
The new regulations in the form of the Manual for Military Commissions were submitted to Congress two weeks ago, drawing immediate criticism from the Law Council of Australia for offering little or no improvement on the earlier model.
And with a proper analysis of the 240-page document yet to be completed by the oversight committee, Morrison had still seen enough to share the Law Council’s dismay.
“Some of the more salient features in the regs … are of concern,” he said. “For example, the rule involving hearsay, and hearsay within hearsay is permissible, which is quite a worry. Evidence by coercion still goes in.”
But along with specific flaws in the regulations, the overall structure has not changed. “The same body that wants to prosecute, is the same body that picks the structure of the process and determines the outcome,” Morrison said.
The aim of the committee is to dissect the regulations and draft a submission, which they hoped to have before Attorney-General Philip Ruddock by today, as Lawyers Weekly went to press.
Burnside and Percy were chosen for the panel because the ALA wanted “the best mix of skills in both criminal law and human rights,” he said. “Between those two QCs you have among Australia’s finest, so it’s a good combination.”
And as a spokesperson for the ALA, Morrison expressed the frustration the association has felt over the five years that Hicks has been held without trial. “Like most people, we’re utterly concerned with the delay,” he said. “Our position is simple — regardless of the guilt or innocence of [Hicks], delaying the judicial process like this is just destroying him.”
Reacting to reports that Prime Minister John Howard had communicated to the US his expectation that Hicks be charged by the middle of February, Morrison said that “up until now … there has been no effort by the Australian Government to bring this to a head. And we’re pleased that they are at least attempting to do that”.
The increased attention that Howard and Ruddock are giving to Hicks’ plight could be explained by “the political climate at the moment, with an election looming this year,” Morrison said. “Personally, I think the penny is starting to drop. The rest of the country is realising what a travesty this is, and it’s high time they did something about it.”