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The Benbrika Verdicts

By Mark Sergeant
Created 17/09/2008 - 00:20

Mark Sergeant is a long-time Webdiary contributor (wrote the 50,000th comment, he did) with a sharp eye for legal anomalies. This is his third piece for Webdiary:

The Benbrika Verdicts
by Mark Sergeant [0]

Readers are probably aware by now that the jury in the Benbrika [1] case has delivered a variety of verdicts [2] (with a couple more [3] as follow up). The net result is, of the original 13 charged, seven have been found guilty on one or more charges, four not guilty on any charge, one where the jury could not reach a verdict, and one turned "state's evidence [4]", pled guilty, and is already serving a five and a half year sentence.

It's difficult commenting on jury verdicts. Normally, all we have are second-hand reports from the media, which are necessarily incomplete, often from partisan sources and sometimes misleading. We do not know, apart from the verdict, what the jury thought, or how they reached their conclusions. We take it on trust that the jury has been conscientious. A written judgment is a decent source document, and there is at least an illusion that we have access to the relevant material.

So the jury deliberated, over 21 days, working its way through the evidence, and in the end arriving at a set of verdicts that are, probably, about right. Benbrika, the mastermind, convicted on all charges. Some convicted, some not. Some convicted on some charges and not on others. One they couldn't decide on. It is what you would expect if Benbrika was creating a terrorist organisation - a small group of people with a range of degrees of involvement. But it reminds me of the Hicks saga, and the Ahmed Ali liquibomber case [5]. Part of the Hicks bargain was that he was found not guilty on the greater charge of providing support for an act of terrorism. The liquibombers were found not guilty of plotting to bring down a trans-Atlantic airliner. Certainly in the Hicks case, and quite probably in the Ahmed Ali and Benbrika cases, the prosecution were pursuing charges where they had little or no substantial evidence to lend weight to the more nebulous (and lesser) charges where they did have significant evidence. Understandable, perhaps, but should our representatives be prosecuting charges they know will fail as a tactic to secure conviction on lesser charges?

Considering our safety as citizens, there may be something more important than these verdicts that happened along the way. It's R v Benbrika & Ors (Ruling no 20) [6], and it found that it was unreasonable for the accused to be transported from Geelong to Melbourne each trial day, shackled, in the orange jump suits and with strip searches at each end. They were, remember, not convicted of anything at the time. Some of them have just, six months later, been acquitted on all charges.

And, of course, we have the pollies tough on terrorism [7]. As always


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