Monday, May 16, 2011

Cheap political points at the expense of the justice system

Once again the opposition are attacking and undermining the democratic institutions that underpin our society in another appeal for cheap votes. Liberal Senator Julian McGauran has used parliamentary privilege to launch and extraordinary attack on the Melbourne academic who provided expert witness testimony in the case of the man who threw his daughter of the Westgate bridge - R v Freeman [2011] VSC 139 (11 April 2011)

Sen. McGauran used the the parliament to attack Graham Burrows as "a psychiatrist of last resort and one who will sing whatever song the defence wants". Not only is this an appalling attack on Mr. Burrows but it is an attack which undermines our justice system itself. Expert witnesses need to be able to give their evidence in difficult cases and not have parliamentarians calling for them to lose their job.

Sen. McGauran fails to understand that the primary duty (see form 44A) of any expert witness is to the court and not to any particular side of the case - and it is up to the jury, not parliamentarians, to decide on the weight of that evidence. In this particular case, the jury did not agree with Mr. Burrows' evidence. This in no way determinative of the veracity or otherwise of Mr. Burrows evidence - the jury has decided that there was more evidential weight to the expert testimony of the prosecution (as well as other evidence adduced in the case) and it is beyond reasonable doubt that Mr. Freeman committed the crime. In essence the system appears to have worked as it should so it is difficult to see that Sen. McGauran's attack is anything other than an abuse of parliamentary privilege for the purpose of scoring the very cheapest of political points.

These cheap political points come at the expense of the integrity of the system itself. It undermines justice if an expert witness is second-guessing their evidence because they are afraid of being attacked in parliament. It undermines their fundamental duty to the court to provide their expert witness testimony if they curtail the way they present their evidence for fear of an attack on their reputation.

Members of the opposition seem to be happy to undermine fundamental societal institutions such as freedom of speechfreedom of religion and now the justice system itself. This pernicious grab for votes shows that the Liberal party is happy to appeal to the extremes of society to pursue its cynical attempts to gain power at the expense of the fundamental institutions of this country.