The right to represent

Written on the 13 March 2014

The right to represent

Lawyers have been forced to defend their work with members of alleged criminal motorcycle gangs after coming under attack from Premier Campbell Newman.

THE standoff between the legal fraternity and Queensland Government over its harsh new anti-bikie laws is heating up as the Premier Campbell Newman takes a swipe at lawyers representing bikies.

Criticism of the anti-association legislation has come from lawyers, human rights groups, academics and even members of the general public, who claim they infringe civil liberties and subvert the course of justice.

As the pressure mounted, Newman applied the blowtorch to lawyers representing alleged criminal bikers, leading to a strong rebuke from Queensland Law Society (QLS).

"These people are hired guns. They take money from people who sell drugs to our teenagers and young people," Newman told the media.

"Yes, everybody's got a right to be defended under the law but you've got to see it for what it is: they are part of the machine, part of the criminal gang machine, and they will see, say and do anything to defend their clients, and try and get them off and indeed progress ... their dishonest case."

The comments came after Hannay Lawyers advised their clients not to attend court, as they could be breaching the anti-association laws by being in the presence of other alleged bikies.

QLS President Ian Brown says he is deeply concerned by the comments.

“Lawyers operate under ethical obligations of which the paramount duty is to the court and the administration of justice,” he says.

“Our principal duty, governed by strict legal and ethical rules, is to uphold the law, and then within the bounds of that, to ensure our clients’ rights - given to us by the law – are protected and advanced.

“I am equally troubled by the reported statement that lawyers will “see, say and do anything to defend their clients, try and get them off and indeed progress their case”.

“The implication here is a presumption of guilt – completely counter to the proper functioning of our justice system.

“The entitlement to a fair defence is a fundamental principle underpinning our justice system.”

The government, through Attorney General Jarrod Bleijie, has a multi-pronged approach to destroying the so-called criminal organisations.

The Vicious Lawless Association Disestablishment (VLAD) legislation adds jail time of 15 years (and a further 10 for office bearers) to people proved to be a member of a criminal bikie gang when they are convicted of another crime.

In addition to the VLAD laws, the government has modified the Criminal Code Act to include a list of declared criminal organisations and new anti-association offences for people in these organisations.

Participants may not gather in groups of three or more, may not visit locations like clubhouses or recruit for their organisations.

Meanwhile, plumbers, builders and electricians have six months to cut ties to members of these criminal organisations

Amendments to the Queensland Building Services Authority Act (QBSAA) and the Electrical Safety Act (ESA) will allow licences to be cancelled if a person is proved to be a criminal gang associate.

The government says 600 criminal motorcycle gang participants and associates have been arrested on 1219 charges, including extortion, and drug and violence offences since the laws have been in effect.

The government says the object is to disestablish associations encouraging people who commit serious offences; increase public safety and security; deny to persons who commit serious offences the assistance and support gained from association with others who participate in these affairs.

Australian Lawyers for Human Rights is highly critical of the laws.

“When these laws were enacted, ALHR along with many other members of civil society advised that various provisions would be found to be invalid, unnecessary and ultimately ineffective in tackling the serious problem of organised crime,” says spokesman Benedict Coyne.

“All the research shows that mandatory detention is not a deterrent, nor does it assist rehabilitation. Solitary confinement and punishing people merely for whom they associate with have no place in a respectable democracy.”

Meanwhile, lawyers representing the bikers and unions who have taken up the case of their members, are preparing a High Court challenge.

How to battle bikies
Anti-association laws brought in to fight motorcycle clubs are working on prophercy and prediction, rather than hard evidence, says Andreas Schloenhardt.






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