by ROCCO LOIACONO – AUSTRALIANS would be familiar with the statue of Lady Justice, which takes its name from the Roman goddess, Iustitia.
Lady Justice is emblematic of one of the pillars of liberal democracy: the rule of law.
Dressed in a toga, she holds in one hand balance scales, which represent impartiality and the obligation of the law (through its representatives) to weigh the evidence presented to the court in an even and fair manner to ensure justice is done.
In the other hand, she holds an unsheathed, double-edged sword, a sign that justice is transparent and not an implement of fear.
The sword also indicates that justice can rule against either of the parties once the evidence has been considered, and it is bound to enforce the ruling as well as protect or defend the innocent party.
Lady Justice is also blindfolded, representing the impartiality and objectivity of the law and that it does not let outside factors, such as politics, wealth, or fame, influence its decisions.
The whole notion of the rule of law and the fairness and transparency (ie, justice) it demands seem to have been the real casualties of the Brittany Higgins saga.
This sordid affair has resulted in the disgraceful abuse of power by those in positions of authority and the collusion between them to extract political and financial gain from the plight of these individuals.
Leaving aside the pack of media celebrities that used a young woman to further not only identity politics but enhance their own careers, those guilty of abusing or misusing their positions of authority include two prime ministers, other senior ministers, as well as senior members of the legal profession.
In doing so, they too were captured by identity politics and/or “ends justify the means” mentality, thereby junking long-held ideals of due process, the presumption of innocence, or even basic fairness.
While the media has, by and large, ignored the presumption of innocence for some time – the accusations against former Attorney-General Christian Porter and the treatment of Cardinal George Pell being just two examples – one would expect persons in government, and above all a prime minister, to do their utmost to uphold this fundamental principle of our justice system.
Former Prime Minister Scott Morrison, a man of avowed Christian principles, under cover of parliamentary privilege, came close to convicting the accused Bruce Lehrmann of rape before that allegation had been proved in court.
Morrison made a point of apologising to Higgins personally following the allegations she raised.
In his desperation to shore up flailing electoral support and rebut the claim levelled against the centre-Right Liberal Party that it had a “women problem”, Morrison had no compunction in trashing the presumption of innocence to embrace toxic identity politics.
As far as the Labor Party is concerned, the disgraceful lack of due process and transparency in the awarding of taxpayer-funded compensation to Higgins was equally as bad, if not worse.
An undisclosed financial settlement (rumoured to be around $3 million) was paid to Higgins to settle her claim against the federal government, despite no finding of wrongdoing made against anyone and without the opportunity for those accused of wrongdoing, namely former Liberal ministers Michaelia Cash and Linda Reynolds, to test the allegations made against them.
Indeed, Reynolds was coerced into not attending the mediation under threat of the government refusing to pay her legal costs.
Add to that the fact that we taxpayers, who are footing the bill for this payout, are not allowed to know its amount … what was all that in the election campaign from the Labor Party about transparency and integrity?
Reynolds has stated she will refer this matter to the new National Anti-Corruption Commission if no one else will. Let’s hope she is true to her word.
Now it has emerged that senior Labor figures had knowledge of Higgins’ accusations before they were made public.
The Australian newspaper has published secret text messages which allege Labor Finance Minister Katy Gallagher was involved in the story before Higgins’ interview on Channel 10’s The Project.
The text messages also show Higgins’ boyfriend, David Sharaz, telling Higgins that allegedly Labor Prime Minister Albanese had inserted himself in the story a month after it became public.
And if that weren’t enough, we have the entire judicial process, with abandoned trials, dropped charges, the conflict between the police and the Director of Public Prosecutions, and so on, all of which is currently the subject of the Sofronoff Inquiry.
This inquiry has seen the Director of Public Prosecutions for the ACT, Shane Drumgold SC, take leave immediately following the giving of his evidence at the inquiry, which showed he may well have strayed from acting as an objective minister of justice to acting as Higgins’ lawyer.
An untenable situation that undermines the public’s trust in the criminal justice system.
As The Australian columnist Janet Albrechtsen wrote, trust is based on the notion that the administration of justice is committed to a fair trial and the search for truth.
What emerged from Drumgold’s evidence was a recurring theme that he sought to protect the complainant, Higgins, from harm while apparently unconcerned about the risk to the defendant, Lehrmann.
Indeed, in his public statement announcing that there would be no re-trial of Lehrmann – after the first was aborted due to juror misconduct – Drumgold lauded Higgins’ bravery and dignity.
He admitted under questioning at the inquiry that he was unfair to Lehrmann in that public outburst.
The Higgins saga still has a long way to go, it seems. But the damage to our cherished rule of law has already been done.PC