Robert Stary, the defense lawyer for four men arrested last week over an alleged Sydney suicide mission, believes that their presumption of innocence is at risk because of the media and political attention their arrests received.
The Australian Lawyers Alliance criminal lawyer told Lawyers Weekly today that the four accused all face the danger of finding that their fair trails have already been prejudiced.
"The pollution that has occurred in the public view makes (their cases) almost irretrievable - that level of contamination is significant," he said.
Stary referred to the media reports and political debate that surrounded the arrests of the men in Melbourne on 4 August, following a joint federal, Victorian and NSW police operation. The first edition of The Australian newspaper published news on the arrests as they were taking place, while politicians - including Prime Minister Kevin Rudd - used the police operation to reaffirm their position that so-called terrorism remained a threat in Australia.
"What happens is you get the premiers of each state, you get the chief commissioners, and then you get the press releases and the leaks into the press," said Stary.
On the afternoon of the raids Rudd said that the arrests showed that the threat of terrorism was alive and "requires vigilance on the part of our security authorities and we propose to maintain that vigilance into the future".
Stary called such a position "shameful". "Rather than saying there's a presumption of innocence, they [politicians] go and engage in the debate and talk about homegrown terrorism and the need for the community to be protected."
The four men have been charged with various offences - including the intention to cause an incursion into a foreign country, the preparation of a terrorist offence and recruiting persons for a foreign army.
Stary described the charges as "unusual"
The Australian's associate editor, Cameron Stewart, wrote on Monday that he had been working on the story for some time before reporting on the arrests for his piece published on the morning of the raids. He said the AFP had been completely aware of The Australian's production cycle and just when the piece would be available to the public.
Later on the morning of 4 August, Victorian police chief Simon Overland attacked The Australian, claiming the story had hit streets at 1:30am - before the raids had occurred - and that it could have put the operation at risk.
- Angela Priestley
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