Four anti-war protesters who broke into the US-Australian Pine Gap spy base near Alice Springs in December 2005, had their convictions quashed by the Northern Territory Court of Criminal Appeal in Darwin on February 22.
The four Christians Against All Terrorism — Tim Dowling, Adele Goldie, Bryan Law and Donna Mulhearn — were the first Australians to be charged under the 1952 Defence (Special Undertaking) Act.
They had argued in their defence that they had entered the spy satellite facility because it played a role in the targeting of US cruise missile attacks during the March 2003 invasion of Iraq. They sought to argue that it was an instrument of "international aggression" rather than of "national defence", as stated in the DSU Act. But an Alice Springs judge ruled they could not debate the point in court. They were convicted last June and together were fined more than $3000.
The federal director of public prosecutions (DPP) appealed against the decision, arguing that the punishment was too lenient, while the four protesters appealed against their convictions.
The full bench of the NT appeal court unanimously acquitted all four defendants of their convictions, ruling that there had been "a miscarriage of justice".
"The defendants were deprived of a possible defence, mainly establishing that the facility was not necessary for defence purposes", Chief Justice Brian Martin said.
The federal DPP immediately applied for a retrial. "There doesn't seem to be much point going through the exercise again, what's to be achieved? What's to be gained in relation to these individuals and the community in ordering a retrial?" said Justice Trevor Riley before the three-judge panel declined the application.
In a media release issued shortly after the appeals court ruling, the four activists said that the "fact that we had already served prison time was a significant factor" in the judges' decision to refuse a retrial.
The judges' decision was "a victory for fairness and common sense, and a slap in the face for [the] prosecutors, who sought to use draconian legislation to respond to pacifists partaking in non-violent civil disobedience with an extreme witch-hunt".