A new organisation dedicated to achieving justice for the wrongfully convicted has been launched with a bang in Western Australia, with American champion boxer Rubin Carter getting behind the cause.
JusticeWA was officially launched on Saturday night by Carter, who was immortalised in the Bob Dylan song Hurricane and served 20 years in prison for a triple murder before being exonerated by a group of volunteers in 1985.
Speaking to Lawyers Weekly yesterday, award-winning investigative journalist and stringent supporter of the organisation, Estelle Blackburn, described Carter as a light-hearted character, despite his tragic past.
"The Hurricane is very entertaining, extremely entertaining. He doesn't particularly want to talk about his time [in prison]. He thinks that he very is lucky," she said.
And Blackburn, who dedicated years of her life to digging up evidence which led to the exoneration of two wrongfully convicted Perth men in 2002 and 2005, does not doubt the importance of organisations such as JusticeWA.
"[The Hurricane] was in prison for three willful murders and had three life sentences. If it wasn't for a group of people who came up with a de facto innocence project in Toronto, if they hadn't taken up the cause and done all the work and got him an appeal, he would still be in prison," she said.
JusticeWA is the latest in a growing number of innocence projects which aims to provide those who have been wrongfully charged or wrongfully convicted with legal and forensic assistance. Unlike other projects, however, JusticeWA intends to pay those who work the cases by raising funds.
Leading the fund-raising charge is Paul Montani, the real driving force behind JusticeWA and a man with a vested and personal interest in the success of the project.
Montani, founder and CEO of JusticeWA, knows only too well the toll a wrongful charge or conviction can have on an individual and their family, with his older brother Johnny enduring three trials for murder, the final of which he was found not guilty.
"Johnny Montani went through three trials, was in a maximum security prison for a total of three years between trials, and it cost his family $600,000. In Western Australia there is no compensation for costs lost in the High Court, so Montani lost three years' salary, went through all the trauma [of being imprisoned] and lost $600,000 too," said Blackburn.
According to Blackburn, Paul Montani has channeled the anger he felt about his brother's ordeal into helping others.
"Paul said, 'I can't do anything about Johnny's case - that is over and done with. But I want to do something to help other people in a similar situation, other people who are on the wrong side of the justice system, who are traumatised, who don't have money, who need help. I want to do something for them'," said Blackburn.
Blackburn also believes wrongful conviction is a worldwide concern which needs addressing.
"DNA is showing how serious wrongful conviction is around the world. They say 1 per cent of the prison population [is wrongfully convicted]," she said.
And, according to Blackburn, JusticeWA is well and truly on the case.
"[This is not just] a quiet little thing starting up ... JusticeWA is here - and it is here big time. People have heard about it and now ... the hard work begins."
- Claire Chaffey
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