It is a short stroll from the Eureka Hotel in Little Malop Street, Geelong, to the city’s fine, new, marble-paved courthouse, the imposing staircase that welcomes all visitors, guilty and innocent alike, an architect’s reminder that the rule of law reigns above us all, for it is on the first floor where the most serious cases are heard.
You can cover the distance from pub to court, even at a well-lubricated shuffle, in a few minutes at most. Turn to the north-east from the Eureka and pass by the ever-replenishing knot of nicotine fiends who spill ceaselessly from the pub to sate their cravings on the kerb of Little Malop Street, which is no more than a wider-than-average laneway.
The law is very particular about protecting the innocent from secondhand smoke and the penalties for offenders severe.
Turn right at Geringhap Street, then a couple of sharp lefts past darkened shops and down empty commercial streets until the Geelong Gallery looms out of the darkness to your left. An imposing, neo-classical temple to art and culture, it is your cue to strike a rhumb line across the park that serves as the museum’s forecourt. Don’t dally, however, perhaps to pluck a flower, for which the penalties are severe. And you must never, ever dream of up-ending an alcoholic beverage, should you happen to have smuggled a traveller out of the Eureka while the bouncer wasn’t looking.
The law is very particular about taking alcohol from licensed premises, not to mention drinking in public parks, and the penalties for both offences are severe.
So now you are taking in a building that cost an improbable $20 million to build. But do be careful crossing the road if you seek a closer inspection. The distant rumble of hoonmobiles confirms that Geelong’s rowdier element is out and about, as it is most nights, so it would be wise to watch your step.
The law is very particular about jaywalking and the penalties can be severe.
It’s midnight by now and the courthouse is in darkness, which may well strike you as appropriate in view of another who made that same short journey, albeit with an extended detour via the holding cells at the local lockup. His name was Adrian Ernest Bayley (above), and even if the police had not escorted him into Magistrate Ron Saines’ courtroom to answer for what happened one late-August night just down the laneway from the Eureka, there is little doubt he could have made the destination without assistance. At the age of 41, with almost two dozen separate convictions for rape and violent assault on his record, Bayley had spent much of his adult life behind bars. If there was one thing he knew as if by instinct it was finding his way into the dock.
Actually, he had mastered much more than that. Gaming the system, manifesting false contrition, generating an improbable sympathy on the part of prison psychologists who heard his expressions of repeated regret for that sex assault or this bashing – they were the journeyman’s skills of an old lag and Bayley had spent decades polishing his craft.
Early in 2011 and newly released after serving eight years of a eleven-year sentence for the calculated and methodical stalking and rape of half-a-dozen St Kilda prostitutes, Bayley had been subsumed by the judicial system. Transformed from threat to file number, assigned a probation officer and set up with a taxpayer-funded place to live in Geelong, he was one more speck of grist in the legal system’s creaking mill.
Six months later and full as an egg, Bayley was wandering in a haze down Little Malop Street, where a young man, Matt Cassar, had the great misfortune to have just taken a seat at a table outside the café which thrives on the Eureka patrons’ late-night appetites for fare more substantial than that which comes in a glass. Something about Cassar got Bayley’s goat and he told him so. By his account, Cassar shrugged it off. It is the last thing about that night he remembers.
Spinning on his heel, Bayley simultaneously stooped and lunged to land a hay-making upper-cut to the point of Cassar’s jaw. Witnesses – the Eureka’s outdoor smokers – told the cops who arrested Bayley that the blow lifted his victim entirely out of his seat, although the evening’s revelries may well have inspired exaggeration. What is certain beyond the shadow of a doubt is that Cassar was out cold when he hit the pavement, and that his jaw had been not merely broken but pulverised.
Bayley — already on parole, remember — was arrested yet again, charged with assault and his court date set for February of the following year. Then he was released. Until that date in court, his latest legal formalities over, he was free to move about at will, which could not be said of Cassar’s jaw. Wired shut so the bones could knit, he would not eat solid food again until mere weeks before Bayley’s next scheduled encounter with the dumb machinery of justice.
Smokers, flower-snatchers, scofflaw pedestrians – the law is adamant about the obligation of its police and court officers to protect society from such perils. But a multiple rapist with a taste for crystal meth and sadism? Bayley’s case and treatment speaks of the system’s bipolar attitude, one that sees petty offences prosecuted with alacrity while larger crimes are swallowed whole. Slowly, very slowly, thse hard cases are digested, processed and punishment meted, sometimes. A cynic night wonder why petty offences are policed with such enthusiasm while tough nuts so often return to the streets.
Could it be that otherwise law-abiding citizens are easier targets, their wallets ripe for tapping by governments that relish all that extra revenue from those who smoke in undesignated areas, exceed the speed limit by 4kph or cross streets against the red? Someone like Bayley, well he is different. With no money of his own he would pay his way by other means. A professional defendant, the mortgages of how many legal aid lawyers, judges and court officials would his repeated encounters with the courts help to cover?
When Magistrate Saines sentenced Bayley in 2012 for the LittleMalop Street assault, the penalty was three months, but the spike-haired thug with the biceps swollen to Popeye proportions by all those years lifting prison weights never saw the wrong side of a jailhouse wall. His client intended to appeal, the defendant’s lawyer told the court, and should therefore be allowed to enjoy his liberty until a higher court upheld or dismissed.
Saines agreed, a decision that must strike those citizens not immersed in the judicial-industrial complex as obscene. Given the typical delays in shuffling defendants before the courts, there was a bizarre logic to the decision that returned Bayley to the streets: had he been taken into custody, the habitual thug likely would have served his three months before his appeal could be heard. Were he then to be found innocent – unlikely but possible – there would have claims for unlawful imprisonment and, it goes without saying, the payment of substantial damages.
So one of the most dangerous men in all Australia, a creature habituated to violence who might have been locked up there and then, was returned to stalk the same society that so generously funds the court system which had just turned him lose.
If there had been a reporter in court that day, he or she might have asked how such a thing could happen. It would have been a private question, however, too dangerous ever to be set in print. Since the case was ongoing and an appeal lodged, very little of anything other than the actual court proceedings is allowed to be reported for fear of prejudicing future hearings. Later, when Bayley’s demons drove him to strike again, a radio journalist, Derryn Hinch, would spend 50 nights in jail (in lieu of a $100,000 fine) for daring to relate the details of Bayley’s criminal past and wondering how in the name of reason he had ever been set free. The public must be protected, it seems, from knowing of the justice system’s fecklessness and caprice.
THE INEVITABLE came to pass in the wee hours of August, 2012. Bayley, his appeal against the Little Malop Street assault still pending, was out on the town. So was ABC office manager Jill Meagher, who had capped a pre-weekend night of merrymaking by stopping for a final drink or two at her local waterhole in Sydney Road, Brunswick.
Bayley was waiting with a practiced routine. Someone sinister was following her, he stopped the young woman in the street to say. A bridal store’s security camera caught the moment – the theatrical urgency of Bayley’s body language, his soon-to-be victim’s nervous glance over her shoulder. There is no dialogue on the video but none is really needed, especially after his offer to escort the unaccompanied young woman is rejected. Bayley goes one way and Meagher the other and, for a few seconds, the video shows only a window mannequin and an empty footpath. Then the figure of Bayley flashes past, hot in pursuit of his quarry.
Jill Meager would be raped and murdered within the hour, her body stuffed into a shallow grave before the sun came up.
There was a massive march along Sydney Road in Jill Meagher’s memory, the cry being that women need to know they can walk home in safety. The feminist claque climbed aboard as well, denouncing “victim blaming” (which had not happened) and citing the murder as yet another example of why all men must change their sexist, oppressive attitudes. Bayley and his ilk would not have paid the slightest heed, of course, but one gathered he and genuine criminals were incidental to the anti-male clamour. As to the gross failure of the courts and probation system, that rated scarcely a mention.
ON THURSDAY in Melbourne, Bayley was convicted of three more rapes – news that came as a surprise to most who reside in the city on the Yarra. In order to guarantee a fair trial, the stated reason, all reporting of the proceedings had been suppressed by judge’s edict. Once again, the public’s right to view or be informed what goes on in the courtrooms it pays for had been thwarted. In other jurisdictions – the US, for instance – there would have been a huge outcry, but not here, where the legal system enjoys the privilege of deciding just how much of its work and errors should be immediately available to public view and comment.
Bayley will likely spend the rest of his life behind bars, and given the reported enmity of his fellow prisoners, who are said to be livid at the tightening of parole provisions his outrages prompted, the time he has left on the planet may be rather short.
Unlike the courts that judge them, criminals’ understanding of offence and speedy, apt punishment is particularly acute.
Roger Franklin is the editor of Quadrant Online