Two Australian citizens, Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran, were executed by firing squad in Indonesia overnight. They had been convicted as part of the Bali 9, who had been caught attempting to smuggle heroin to Australia.Six other people were killed alongside Chan and Sukumaran, and one woman’s execution was postponed. Mark Kenny argues, “By definition, jurisdictions retaining the death penalty believe some crimes are so serious that the perpetrators are beyond redemption and are of zero human value… that no rehabilitation is even possible. This is where the court’s original decision on February 14, 2006 was wrong as a matter of fact.” The pair are widely seen as models of rehabilitation: Chan became a Christian pastor and provided counselling to other prisoners, and Sukumaran established education programs earned a fine arts degree. His portraits became a focal point for campaigners against their execution: “by making his mark in paint, he has created a vivid reminder of the simple fact that real human lives are extinguished by the death penalty. … These paintings cry out against a monstrous inhumanity.” Their work made such a difference to the Kerobokan Prison that its governor appeared in court to support their plea for mercy. In recent weeks, President Joko Widodo refused to consider their individual circumstances, instead applying a blanket policy to reject clemency for drug traffickers. The Indonesian Constitutional Court has agreed to hear an appeal against this policy on 12 May. The Judicial Commission also said it would interview the Bali 9’s lawyers next week, to investigate claims the sentencing judge sought a bribe. However, these pending appeals did not halt the executions. The Australian Government is opposed to the death penalty everywhere in the world, and says there will be diplomatic consequences. It has already withdrawn its ambassador to Indonesia. However, the role of the Australian Federal Police in exposing the Bali 9 to the death penalty remains controversial.
Every year the legal profession runs Law Week, a series of events to engage with the community to share information and demystify the workings of the law. This year, it begins on 11 May. Some of these events are particularly useful for students, and most are free (but booking is advisable as places may be limited). Some highlights include opportunities to see how legal institutions work: the Sentencing Advisory Council will run a mock sentencing hearing, the Fair Work Commission will run a mock employment law hearing, and the Juries Commissioner’s Office will take you behind the scenes of jury selection. The Supreme, County and Magistrates’ Courts are holding an Open Day including behind the scenes tours and mock hearings. There will also be some interesting panel discussions, including experts on the media and the community’s role in violence against women, and police, lawyers and DNA experts discussing real cases in a panel on How to Get Away with Murder.
Justice Kenneth Hayne will be forced by s 24 of the Constitution to retire in June when he turns 70, and the Government has announced he will be replaced on the bench by his wife, current Federal Court Justice Michelle Gordon. The appointment has been “widely applauded” by the legal profession. Justice Gordon has a very strong reputation as a lawyer and judge, and is a specialist in taxation and commercial law. Professor Andrew Lynch welcomed the decision to appoint a judge who would sit for 20 years: “There is a lot to be said for a bit of constancy.” While it is sometimes suggested that governments make such long appointments because they expect political support, only last month Justice Gordon made a high profile decision against the government. The appointment also answers concerns about gender balance on the High Court bench, restoring the proportion of women to 3 out of 7.
The latest video in Castan Centre’s Have You Got That Right? series considers the right to a healthy environment. Monash University’s Associate Professor Adam McBeth says while the UN does not yet explicitly recognise it, “a new right to a healthy planet may continue to be fleshed out, emerging from our existing rights” to health, food, water, and the like. South Africa’s constitutional bill of rights includes section 24, which protects human rights “to an environment that is not harmful to their health or well-being” and “to have the environment protected, for the benefit of present and future generations”. In a decision upholding the government’s right to prevent the construction of a new petrol station, Claasen J of the South African High Court (roughtly equivalent to an Australian State Supreme Court) ruled that s 24 meant “[p]ure economic principles will no longer determine in an unbridled fashion whether a development is acceptable. Development, which may be regarded as economically and financially sound, will in future be balanced by its environmental impact…” In 2014, in a report considering the right to a healthy environment around the world, the UN’s Special Rapporteur on Human Rights and the Environment observed that “over 90 national constitutions recogniz[e] some form of the right”, including 30 African countries, but that “implementation was the major issue”.