Sweetness & Light

Judge, Jury, Trial? Phooey to All That

A friend once forgot to wear glasses during his drive to work. For some people, this might not have been a major problem—but this friend very much required optical assistance. Also, his morning commute involved a peak-hour crossing of the Sydney Harbour Bridge.

He made it to the office by combining proximity estimates of the blurry vehicle-shaped objects around him with judicious responses to frequent car horn blasts. Although he claimed to have completed the journey easily, Ken notably took a taxi home that evening.

At least his optically deprived drive-by-sound effort wasn’t filmed. Then-England cricket captain Bob Willis’s most forgetful moment, in the First Test at Edgbaston in 1982, was broadcast around the world. Even now, four decades later, a two-year-old YouTube video of the incident has scored nearly 90,000 views.

Walking out of the dressing room to resume his innings after a break, Willis made it about halfway to the pitch before he realised he’d forgotten a piece of equipment that is somewhat important in the game of cricket.

He’d left his bat behind, and the England captain had to go all the way back inside to retrieve it. Still, England won the game—just as Labor’s Anthony Albanese won this year’s federal election after forgetting Australia’s unemployment rate in his first election campaign press conference.

Tim Blair appears in every Quadrant.
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Perhaps forgetfulness is a path to victory. Hundreds of Greeks living on the island of Zakynthos won big a decade or so ago after apparently forgetting they weren’t blind. According to a 2012 news item, some 600 or so Greeks on the island were at various points registered as blind or otherwise vision-impaired. That was nearly ten times the rate of blindness throughout the rest of Europe.

“In reality there is nothing wrong with their sight at all,” the Christian Science Monitor reported. “‘Blind’ taxi drivers cheerfully ferry tourists around the holiday destination, recreational hunters with purported sight problems regularly take to the hills in pursuit of wild birds and rabbits, and ‘visually impaired’ shopkeepers, taverna owners, and farmers with vineyards and olive groves go about their daily business.”

By “forgetting” they could see, those fake blind people qualified for substantial benefits. And they kept earning decent livings at the same time. “I’ve seen them playing cards in the bars and driving their cars. It’s ridiculous!” a local businessman, Spiros Skiadopoulos, told the Monitor.

By one account, the whole scam unravelled when it finally became too embarrassingly obvious to be ignored. “An islander went to the welfare office to pick up his blindness cheques,” Nikolaos Venardos, one of only forty genuinely blind people on Zakynthos, revealed to the newspaper.

“A female staff member who was on a break saw him then take off his dark glasses, jump into a Porsche and drive away. She called the police and said ‘That guy is supposed to be blind!’ That’s how it all started.”

So the chap didn’t forget he wasn’t blind. He just forgot to keep up the act. The same thing happened to a bloke who contacted me back in the 1990s with what he said was a tragic story of anti-blind discrimination. He wanted me to write a story condemning shops that placed promotional signs on footpaths, saying he kept walking into them and hurting himself.

Something about the fellow didn’t ring true. He seemed oddly able to negotiate his way around our cluttered newspaper office, for example, with minimal assistance. So I didn’t pursue the story and forgot about it myself until a few weeks later, when the same bloke turned up on one of the current affairs shows.

He’d told them the same sad saga about colliding with street signs, but the current affairs crew obviously felt similar doubts about his level of sightlessness. So they stuck a $50 note on a footpath and secretly rolled their cameras as the blind man, complete with a white cane, approached. Miraculously, his vision instantly returned. It was the quickest cure in ophthalmological history.

In the same manner as our Mediterranean mates, he forgot to stick to the script. That’s how it goes with faulty memories. It’s usually a personal situation. Occasionally, however, an entire nation of people might all forget something at exactly the same time.

During the past few years, much of Australia somehow forgot about the presumption of innocence until guilt is proven in a court of law. The University of South Australia’s Emeritus Professor of Law, Rick Sarre, here offers a brief reminder of how these matters are supposed to work:

“The principle of contempt law … is that a jury must decide the guilt or innocence of an accused on the basis of the evidence before them, and not to allow other considerations to taint their deliberations.

“This could include commenting publicly on the credibility of a victim’s story, stoking the public’s disdain of an accused by a storm of social media, or calling for a social evil to be tackled. This is referred to as sub judice (‘under a judge’) contempt.”

Or, in simpler terms: once someone has been charged, shut the hell up about it until a verdict is reached.

In the case of Bruce Lehrmann, the young man who was accused of raping fellow former Liberal staffer Brittany Higgins inside Parliament House in 2019, many of us—including former prime minister Scott Morrison—entirely forgot to do this. The same applies to prominent media clowns and any number of Twitter social justice warriors.

Morrison’s comments were among the worst. “I am sorry. We are sorry. I am sorry to Ms Higgins for the terrible things that took place here,” he told Parliament in February this year.

“The place that should have been a place for safety and contribution, turned out to be a nightmare. I’m sorry for all those who came before Ms Higgins and endured the same. But she had the courage to stand, and so here we are.”

Where you were, ex-PM, was putting a fair trial at risk. One of the lawyers representing Lehrmann, who has always maintained his innocence, was understandably astonished. “In light of the complexity, difficulty and importance of the task before any jury already,” Warwick Korn told the media, “the behaviour of our Prime Minister and others in this past 24 hours truly beggars belief.”

Alerted to the fact he’d imperilled legal processes, Morrison subsequently claimed through a spokesman that he’d referred to “the many terrible experiences Ms Higgins has detailed during her time working at Parliament House” and that his comments were “by no means a reflection on the matters before a court”.

Sure, pal. The next day, Canberra’s Press Club provided a platform for Higgins to flatly declare: “I was raped on a couch in what I thought was the safest and most secure building in Australia.” And then, in June, Network Ten presenter Lisa Wilkinson gave a Logies acceptance speech that ended up causing Lehrmann’s trial to be delayed.

Wilkinson’s healthy self-regard was clear from the outset. “After 40 years in journalism, this interview and this story is by far the most important work I have ever done,” she said. “And I knew it from the very first phone call I had early last year with a young woman whose name she told me was Brittany Higgins.”

“This honour belongs to Brittany,” Wilkinson continued, holding aloft her little TV Week trophy as though it was a Nobel Prize. “It belongs to a twenty-six-year-old’s unwavering courage. It belongs to a woman who said ‘enough’.”

Wilkinson wore some deserved criticism following that ego-soaked performance, leading to an absurdly hypocritical plea from Wilkinson’s network. “This reporting is now causing significant harm,” Ten claimed. “We ask these organisations to cease this harassment to allow Lisa the best opportunity to give her evidence in court and to enable the trial to go ahead in a fair and timely manner.”

The “significant harm” caused by Wilkinson saw the trial pushed back by more than three months. “The distinction between an allegation and the fact of guilt,” ACT Supreme Court Chief Justice Lucy McCallum ruled, “has been lost.”

Our national bout of legal amnesia barely let up even after that delayed trial was abandoned due to concerns over Higgins’s mental health. “I wish Brittany Higgins well,” Prime Minister Albanese said. “She is a woman of considerable courage. She is a woman who has been very brave and I wish her all the best.” Albanese prefaced his praise with this line: “I’ll be careful about comments given the circumstances which are there.”

Better late than never, but clearly too late for all parties involved to ever achieve anything remotely resembling justice. For a fuller understanding of the underlying political, cultural and media elements of this case, I recommend Tom Wolfe’s Bonfire of the Vanities. Wolfe foresaw all of this from a remove of more than thirty years.

By the way, readers will notice I’ve only filed one column this month rather than the usual two. My excuse is bulletproof. I forgot.

9 thoughts on “Judge, Jury, Trial? Phooey to All That

  • terenc5 says:

    The further away Morrison gets, the more smelly that turd becomes.

  • DougD says:

    Tim’s mention of Brittany Higgins reminds me of the therapeutic value of money. There was Brittany, so close to death that a re-trial would probably kill her, said the DPP. Then a couple of weeks later, after being handed the key to the Dept of Finance cash box and a shovel, Brittany was restored to health, enjoying her graduation from university and in quick time, her engagement. Money – if in large amounts, applied quickly and with few questions asked, is a truly marvellous medicine. (This is not, I emphasise, a suitable case for the new Federal IBAC.)

  • Brian Boru says:

    “I’d give the Devil benefit of the law, for my own safety’s sake.” When the Prime Minister, and the national broadcaster don’t get it, we live in dangerous times.
    The amazing thing is that the law societies of our country, as far as I know, have been silent on the issue. But then their members have to think of their future careers don’t they?
    terenc5, yes. But maybe he is was always that way and the cheap cologne blocked the stench. We supposedly had responsible government where Ministers were answerable to Parliament but Parliament was not told who the Ministers were.
    We truly live in dangerous times when these things can happen.

  • Biggles says:

    Please, Tim! Not ‘Then-England cricket captain Bob…’. It looks and sounds like something from the illiterates at Fairfax or TheirABoC. ‘England’s then cricket captain…’ perhaps?

  • Lewis P Buckingham says:

    DougD has raised some of the most curious parts of the information released in this case.
    One minute the accuser was on the edge of suicide, next finishing uni exams and making long lived commitments.
    Before that no structured case, no rape squad, no call to the police to ensure justice was done, no forensics,even the simplest of things, a time sequenced photo of a bruise.
    Just to be a sometime adviser to a minister, as was the accused, one assumes she is made of stern and competent stuff, yet this.
    One close to me had a similar problem, one made of competent stuff.
    The attack was followed up by a visit to hospital, medical examination, treatment, police report, follow up of other ex’s, statements about previous behaviour of the attacker, a term in the big house.
    Perhaps a window is placed on this by he, and the accuser’s, behaviour at the time of the allegations.
    She, avowedly smashed out on alcohol, vomiting and remembering nothing until later.
    He able to walk, gaining access to a ministerial office and presumable a supply of grog, which was unavailable as the bars and bottolos had shut.
    Could all this be a temporary alcohol related psychosis leading to the allegations, but failure to follow up or nail the allegation with serious forensics?
    Could this have been the subject of the research, that the juror found readily on the net and brought into the jury room, aborting the trial?
    As far as the accused action went, perhaps he did have work to do in the Minister’s office, to collect some beer and share it with her.
    He was clearly present for at least a short time after they entered the office.
    It is true that he is not obliged to speak on the subject.
    However if he were able to do so, it may be a valuable assistance to all those in our society who suffer from the curse of alcoholism including parents and their late adolescent children.

  • PT says:

    Ah yes Higgins, of the “poor health”. Her little “outburst” when the first trial collapsed wouldn’t have had anything to do with the trial being abandoned now would it? What’s more she was reading, so it would surely have been vetted by her lawyer.

    I’ve often wondered if it was a deliberate ploy to destroy the legal case but enable her to still parade as the victim.

    And as for Wilkinson. I never liked her. But when she made that “announcement” on The Project about the elderly being “scared” and how they needed their own shopping time during the height of the Covid panic, and then, miraculously Coles and Woolworths made their “announcement” of senior citizens hour in the first hour of trading it exposed her. Either they contacted her to get her to make that “editorial” so they could rapidly show their “concern”, or else she’d been informed they’d come to this agreement and were to formally announce it in the morning and she took the opportunity to present it as due to her personal initiative!

    Either way, it’s extremely dishonest and speaks of an ego greater than Turnbull and Rudd combined. Although perhaps on par with her husband’s.

  • maxpart27 says:

    Andy Ones thoughts in 4587
    Robospaceship to Pod 03
    Movie time again.
    We watched a documentary from the 21st century tonight set in the Parliament House in Australia. The main one. They had Houses in each State as well as the biggest and best in their capital city. A man and woman enter this prestigious building. The Pride of the Nation. And they are drunk, blotto, out of it; and they can enter! Turns out they work there. Obviously two dismissals in the offing. But it gets worse. They go into the office where they work for one of the Parliamentarians and get undressed. They have sex. How can it get worse? It does! The woman goes to sleep. The man can’t wake her and goes. A security guard finds her and covers her up. She eventually wakes up. Is she sorry for her desecration of her workplace. No way. She decides to blame the man for her conduct. He must have raped her. He must be the one solely responsible for this outrage. I find it hard to believe that the leader of the country was gullible enough to give credence to her story. I did not watch all of it. It was just too much to stomach. We might be fourteen years old but we are nowhere near as naive as those 21st century humans.
    What with reading, sleeping and talking the trip went quickly.

  • rabel111 says:

    Judge, jury and slanderer. The Higgins/Lehrmann fiasco is a permanent stain on the federal judicial system, Australian media and women’s activists that cannot be erased or refashioned. It’s hard to seriously believe statements emerging from any of these institutions in the future, without remembering this abuse of public confidence.

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