Archive for the ‘law’ Category

An older white woman stands holding a poster that says 'Not in my name' in capitals.

An older white woman stands holding a poster that says 'Not in my name' in capitals. Image from the javacolleen Flickr stream.

In many states of the USA, one of the penalties available for first degree murder* is death. While the USA is far from the only country to retain the death penalty, it is the only western country to still have it,** and to that extent, it appears to be a bit of an anomaly.

In this context, it’s useful to know something about the relevant international instruments.


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Apparently not, if you’re a man with an intellectual disability and a man who (I’m guessing, given his country of origin) happens to have black skin.

For once, the first part of the story is a pretty good summary:

AARON ODDIE was on an outing with his carer when they visited an upmarket city boutique. But staff at the Tag Heuer watch and jewellery store on King Street thought the pair looked suspicious and hit the hold-up alarm.

Three police cars raced to the store, and officers detained and searched Mr Oddie, who is intellectually disabled, and his social worker, Michael Lassanah.

Mr Lassanah had no chance to explain that he wanted to buy a watch; the men were accused of trying to rob the store.

”If you want to tell your side of the story,” one officer said, ”I think you should say it in court.” So Mr Lassanah did.

He and Mr Oddie sued the State of NSW and the owners of the Tag Heuer shop for false imprisonment and defamation over the incident in June 2008. A District Court judge, Judith Gibson, has awarded him $30,000 in damages, and Mr Oddie $40,000.


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A tale of two legal systems.

In each legal system, there is a woman has been sexually assaulted.

Each woman is subjected to some sort of abuse by the person who is supposed to be prosecuting the sexual assault.

The similarities end there.


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A Bill has been introduced into NSW Parliament which will alter the categories of people who are ineligible for jury duty. Relevant links are below.

In summary (ie why I am writing about this), having a disability will no longer be a blanket reason for ineligibility.

To explain the current position (from the government’s Agreement in Principle speech):

Under the existing legislation, three schedules to the Act provide bases for not serving on a jury: some people are disqualified, some ineligible, and some have a right to claim exemption. Disqualification essentially arises from past criminal conduct. Those who are ineligible cannot serve if they are summoned. This group includes the Governor, the Ombudsman, judicial officers and police officers, and those who cannot read or write English sufficiently, or are too sick, infirm or disabled, to discharge the duties of a juror.

And the new position (from the same source):

Two groups currently listed as ineligible will now have to show cause to be excused. They are a person who is unable to read or understand English, and a person who is unable, because of sickness, infirmity or disability, to discharge the duties of a juror. The Disability Council supported removing the ineligibility of those who are disabled, for example, on the basis that it remedies “an unjustified, outdated belief that people with a disability are unable to fulfil juror duties”. Clearly, a number of people who were excused from service under the current rule will still be excused for good cause, but the change reflects a principled move away from statutory excusal to showing good cause in each case.

To be honest, I’m not sure how much of a practical problem the current position causes. But, people being people, I suspect that if you show up to jury duty with a visible/evident/obvious disability,* someone would question you about that and maybe tell you that you are ineligible, or suggest that you could be ineligible if you got a note from your doctor. That suggestion would be based on the suggester’s assumptions about you rather than any actual evidence as to whether you are, in fact, unable to discharge a juror’s duties.


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[TRIGGER WARNING for forced detention following diagnosis of mental illness.]

Imagine a world in which you could be held by a government agency, against your will, for up to a month.

If you have a mental illness, that is now a real possibility.

Deborah Snow has reported on changes for the SMH – that’s actually how I heard about this – and has some interviews with various people. In summary: the doctors who are quoted are universally opposed to the changes. There’s only one person in the article who supports the changes:

The head of the tribunal, Greg James, a former judge, rejects the criticisms. He said patients retain a right under the Mental Health Act to call in the tribunal at any time to examine their case.

He argues the changes will avoid the many adjournments which occur now, where doctors tell magistrates they are not ready to seek a formal ruling.


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Rosalind Croucher is undoubtedly an influential, intelligent and highly-placed woman. She is currently the President of the Australian Law Reform Commission and before that, was Dean of Law at Macquarie University.

Justinian has profiled her this week.

Of note, the following quotes:

Who has been the most influential person in your life?
My mum – she’s amazing. She writes poetry and novels on any surface that will record her thoughts and can make a meal for a regiment out of whatever happens to be in the cupboard or fridge at that moment.

What is your greatest fear?
Heights and losing my mum.

What would your epitaph say?
I hope to earn this one: ‘She was so like her mother.’

Croucher is a mother herself, and acknowledgement of the influence of motherhood on her professional career is also clear in the profile.

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This makes me so angry!

I agree with a lot of what tigtog says in the linked post, and also Michael Brull’s post at Overland.

I did read through all of the reasons for sentence [NB: link is a pdf], and I have some further comments arising out of that.


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Let’s unpack an interesting social phenomenon, shall we?

Many people alive today live in highly regulated societies. Australia is one such society, so is the UK.

Many regulations are aimed at keeping people safe. Other regulations are ostensibly aimed at keeping people safe, but are either ineffective or have some other purpose.

It is possible to argue that the criminalisation of certain drugs falls into the latter category: many people believe that the fact that a drug is criminalised is an indication is is less safe than a drug that has not been criminalised. This is not necessarily true. The historical reasons for criminalising particular drugs are varied, and not all are to do with safety. It is also an open question whether criminalising a drug that is unsafe is the most effective way of protecting society and/or potential users.

This is important. It means that there is a real possibility that people will assume that a drug that is not criminalised is totally and completely safe, whereas a drug that is criminalised is totally and completely unsafe. The second aspect of that causes problems of its own (such as the fact that if people are sold an absolutist position of any kind, anything which shows that the absolutist position is not entirely true tends to result in people reaching the conclusion that the absolutist position is entirely not true), but this post is about the first aspect.

It’s at work in the reactions and positions described in this article about mephedrone.


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