The NSW Bar Association has applauded new recommendations which aim to improve legal representation and trial preparation access for those charged with terrorism offences.
Recommendations made by the Inspector of Custodial Services came last week in a bid to improve legal access for inmates facing terrorism trials.
The recommendations call for the Corrective Services NSW to streamline the approvals process for granting inmates access to their lawyers. In addition, the recommendations are for the Corrective Services NSW to increase the number of audio-visual rooms available to facilitate inmates' communication with their legal representatives; and not listen to or read confidential legal communications between inmates and their legal representatives.
“Australia’s justice system is one of our strongest weapons in the fight against terrorism and extremism,” said NSW Bar Association president Arthur Moses SC.
“The Inspector’s recommendations are prudent, fair and enhance, rather than diminish, our national security. The right to a fair trial and access to legal representation is not a nicety or a luxury. It is a crucial part of Australia’s democracy, our national security infrastructure and keeping our community safe. Terrorism and extremism is a threat to our way of life, democracy and the rule of law.
Mr Moses added: "Promoting the fair and just conduct of trials is not only for the benefit of those who have been accused of crimes who are entitled to the presumption of innocence, but is also critical to safeguard convictions".
“Corrective services play an important role in the justice system. There are legitimate reasons for tighter security protocols in correctional centres and restrictions on the entitlements of inmates. However, we must also ensure there is no interference with an accused person's right to a fair trial, regardless of the seriousness of the offence," he said.
Mr Moses noted that the third recommendation listed, surrounding confidential legal communications between inmates and their legal representatives, is especially important.
"Lawyers are officers of the court, not mouthpieces of their clients, and owe a paramount duty to the administration of justice,” Mr Moses said.
“Access to the evidence and the accused is vital to the proper conduct of a trial so that lawyers can assess what can be properly put to the court. Without this access, there is an increased risk of adjournments and delays. This in turn increases the financial cost of trials and adds to the emotional strain on witnesses and victims.
"It is troubling that the Inspector needs to make a recommendation that the Department of Corrective Services should not be listening to conversations between lawyers and their clients. This should be self-evident. The legal professional privilege of communications between clients and lawyers is an important part of our rule of law. Legal professional privilege exists for a number of reasons including to ensure that an accused has the right to a fair trial," he concluded.