Saturday, February 20, 2010

Wrongful convictions in Australia to be more energetically challenged

There is no doubt that Carter was a thoroughly bad character from an early age but there was malpractice in trying him. Witnesses on both sides were apparently suborned. He was never really exonerated. Prosecutors just gave up on trying to fix earlier errors

Rubin "Hurricane" Carter doubts there will ever be a time when innocent people are not sent to jail. In Perth to launch a new justice group, America's most famous victim of injustice -- he spent 20 years in jail for three 1966 murders he did not commit -- said the justice system was not about truth. It preferred success. "A police officer is promoted if he's successful in a case; a prosecuting attorney becomes a judge . . . and no one wants to admit their decisions were wrong. That's why it is so hard to change a wrongful conviction."

But the former boxer, immortalised in the song Hurricane by Bob Dylan in 1975, admits he has been shocked by some of failures of Australia's justice system. "You've got wrongful convictions in this country, and it's dead wrong," he said. "You can't ask for anything worse than sending an innocent person to prison."

Tomorrow he will launch JusticeWA, an incorporated public benevolent institution that will raise funds to provide legal and forensic expertise to people fighting wrongful conviction. Its high-profile patrons include Melbourne barrister Robert Richter QC, former state attorney-general Peter Foss QC, and wrongly jailed Perth man John Button, who spent five years in jail after being wrongly convicted of murdering his girlfriend.

"I had all of the high-profile help that you could possibly get. I had Muhammad Ali, I had Bob Dylan . . . and yet I just narrowly escaped through the eye of the needle," Mr Carter said. "I realise how difficult it is for people to bring their case to the public."

Mr Richter said there had been terrible failures of justice in Australia. "You only need to look at people like Lindy Chamberlain, like (Andrew) Mallard in Western Australia (who wrongly served 12 years for murder) and others, to realise that the harm inflicted by a wrongful conviction is almost worse than the original crime," he said.

"There is a populist voice that really cries out for making convictions easier to obtain, and that somehow measures the efficacy of the justice system by the number of convictions obtained. "My view is that, where serious crime is concerned, convictions ought to be difficult to obtain."

And he warned of changes fuelling trouble ahead. "The area with which I'm most concerned is the way the justice system operates in certain spheres, by reversing burdens of proof and presuming certain things to exist unless they are otherwise disproved. That is very, very dangerous."

Mr Button said the aim of JusticeWA was to speed up the release of the innocent. "It takes so long," he said. "We will pay lawyers to work full-time on their cases. We plan to fundraise and get sponsors."

Mr Carter said he had long ago let go of the anger that had consumed him over the racism and lies that led to his conviction. He said his first 10 years in jail were choked by that anger. "Then one day I happened to pass a mirror that was hanging on the wall and the image I saw stopped me dead. I saw a monster . . . I saw the face of hatred . . . and I said, `Oh my God, that can't be me'."

He said he had "cried like a baby" when he was released and had vowed to make his life better. Today, he is strong and hopeful, exuding charm as he confides that Dylan was almost right when he sang that the young boxer "could have been the champion of the world". "I am the champion of the world. I dared to dream that I would be free . . . and now I work to accomplish that dream for others."

Original report here

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