THE PEAK BODY representing the Australian legal profession has slammed state and territory leaders for placing politics and self-interest ahead of the public at the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) summit last week.
Law Council of Australia president-elect Tim Bugg said decisions made at the summit in Canberra appear to have been made to “provide the public with a false sense of security about the deterrence of terrorism, rather than with a view to sound principles of criminal law”.
The results of the summit confirmed Law Council fears that the anti-terrorism measures would do little more than make people feel safer. “We want proof that any new legislation will actually make this country a safer place,” Bugg said before the conference last week.
“Before giving the green light to any new legislation, we hope that heads of government put the genuine security of Australians ahead of politics,” he said.
The Australian Lawyers Alliance has also condemned the results of the anti-terrorism summit, labelling them “un-Australian”. Lawyers Alliance president Richard Faulks said Australian governments were “falling over themselves” to introduce un-Australian measures. The new laws would “sit more comfortably in totalitarian countries where people can be locked up without proper safeguards”, said Faulks.
When pressed how he would know whether the terrorism measures were successful, federal Attorney-General Philip Ruddock said in a recent interview that “a measure of success will be if we find people who have been engaged in planning or preparing terrorist acts where we may not necessarily be able to charge them with an offence, but by using some of these measures we’ve been able to prevent them carrying out a terrorist act”.
“In fact these measures that have been used in the United Kingdom have been used to prevent terrorist acts. I mean things in the United Kingdom could have been far worse than they’ve been were it not for the laws which we are modelling,” Ruddock said.
But the Law Council is eager to see the detail of the proposals, “many of which are foreign to our legal traditions”, said Bugg. “We are not comforted by a sunset clause, which seems to ensure we will have legislation in place that offends human rights principles for at least a decade,” he said.
While it was prepared to reserve its “final judgement” on the proposed new laws until it saw the details, the Law Council said it does not believe in new laws that “take people outside of the traditional scope of the law’s protection, and that is what preventative detention and control orders will do”, said Bugg.
“In the absence of an appropriate protective umbrella like a Bill of Rights, Australia must be careful to balance the need for proper steps to deal with the threat of terrorism with the important rights of Australians,” he said.
The Victorian Bar Council last week joined the rest of the profession in condemning the proposals. The chairman of the Bar Council, Kate McMillan said the COAG proposals threaten to sacrifice fundamental human rights. “The Australian statute book is already full of offences prohibiting violent acts,” she said. The Bar Council saw no reason why these laws could not be used against groups who plan suicide bombings. “In the absence of any explanation to all Australians about why these laws are inadequate, there is no justification for preventative detention,” McMillan said.