Equal before the law?

Issue 

Equal before the law?

Immediately after the jury failed to reach a verdict in the Joh Bjelke-Petersen perjury trial, the pressure went on for no further action against the former premier of Queensland. There is now a powerful campaign to ensure that Bjelke-Petersen never faces a second trial.

Meanwhile, the legal system around Australia is packed with cases in which defendants are pursued ruthlessly by police and prosecutors. Tim Anderson was dragged through two highly publicised trials and numerous appeals, complete with police snipers on courthouse roofs and other theatrical effects designed to create an atmosphere of danger and fear around him. Lindy Chamberlain was also pursued relentlessly and jailed on evidence that was later found to be wrong. The Croatian Six were imprisoned for 12 years before the frame-up against them finally fell apart.

At the present time, police are pursuing the Brewarrina 17 through the courts, determined to get some or all of them jailed on the flimsiest of evidence. They particularly want Arthur Murray behind bars, not because he did anything illegal in the Brewarrina "riots", but because he has repeatedly embarrassed the NSW police since his son, Eddie Murray, was murdered "by persons unknown" in a Wee Waa police cell.

If ever proof was needed, the Bjelke-Petersen case demonstrates that there is one law for most of us and quite another for the rich and powerful. Was it just coincidence that a member of the Friends of Joh was selected as jury foreman in his case? How likely is it that a member of the Black Deaths in Custody Watch Committee might have become foreman, or even a member of the jury, in the Brewarrina 17 trial? Not very likely, in view of the fact that the jury was all white!

There is abundant evidence that Aborigines, migrants, people in poor economic circumstances and members of religious and political minority groups are particularly vulnerable to this country's biased legal system. Moreover, there are too many cases of injustice and systematic persecution of the poor and weak for this to be accidental. That is an integral part of the system.

Little has changed since Anatole France wrote that "the law in its majesty forbids rich and poor alike to beg in the streets and sleep under bridges".

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