WESTERN Australian lawyers are reeling after the state's police minister gave a personal attack on the profession on the footsteps of Parliament House yesterday.
When asked by a journalist whether he was concerned about the release of convicted sex offender Michael McGarry, Rob Johnson, the Police Minister, responded that McGarry “is the sort of person [criminal lawyer] Tom Percy and his crew stand up for and try to get them released early.”
Johnson’s personal attack on lawyers on the footsteps of Parliament House "shows a lack of understanding and respect for the legal system", said the Law Society of Western Australia president Dudley Stow.
“We see these comments as an undignified, sensationalist, disrespectful – and certainly unnecessary – attack on the legal profession by a senior minister of the Crown,” said Stow.
“The minister also took it one step further and personally singled out one of this state’s senior criminal lawyers.”
Stow said the decision to release McGarry was taken after a judge of the Supreme Court comprehensively reviewed all the expert evidence on his current suitability and heard submissions from a lawyer from the Director of Public Prosecutions.
The Office of the DPP supported the release, submitting to the court that a supervision order was suitable.
McGarry had served his full sentence according to law, plus an extra six months, said Stow, "a sentence confirmed by this state’s highest court".
McGarry was not assessed as being a dangerous sex offender who should not be released, said Stow. The Supreme Court was privy to all the facts of the case, while Johnson was not, he suggested.
“If the minister is aggrieved by this decision, perhaps he should speak to the Attorney General as the minister responsible for the DPP, rather than launching an unwarranted attack on the legal profession, including a senior lawyer who had absolutely no involvement with the case mentioned,” said Stow.
“It is regrettable that the minister sees fit to use this particular issue as an unnecessary platform to make disparaging comments of lawyers and, by inference, the judicial system. The constant undermining of public confidence in our justice system is an increasing and worrying trend, more so when a senior minister of the government is at the forefront.
“The public needs to be protected from government intervention in the court system; the independence of the judiciary and a strong independent legal profession is a keystone to our society and the continuing undermining of the legal system by ministers is to be deplored and must stop," he said.