Last week I visited schools in Rockhampton in Central Queensland and spoke to students at The Cathedral College, Emmaus College, Rockhampton Grammar School and Rockhampton State High School. It was also my pleasure to present first prize in the Queensland Rule of Law Essay Prize for 2013 to Brydie Parle of The Cathedral College.
My presentations to students focused on a range of topics such as the so called ‘Bikie laws’ and laws in Queensland to deal with organised crime, freedom of speech and the right to assemble, with some discussion about the role of the jury system in Australia.
~ Nick Clark, RoLIA Education Coordinator
What is the rule of law?
Legal Responses to Criminal Organisations
Freedom of Speech, Media and the Right to Assemble
How to Research High Court Cases
What is the Rule of Law Institute? / Defining the Rule of Law
It is essential to understand the nature of the organisation from which you are getting your information. As our About Us and Principles sections explain, the Rule of Law Institute of Australia (RoLIA) is an [pl_popover title=”What does independent mean?” content=”We do not support or have affiliations with any political party or government, and act according to the direction of RoLIA’s Governing and Advisory Council” position=”right”]independent[/pl_popover], [pl_popover title=”What does not-for-profit mean?” content=”All our education materials are available free of charge” position=”right”] not-for-profit[/pl_popover] organisation which seeks to promote and protect the rule of law in Australia. We do this mainly through our education programmes which focus on supporting students in schools and universities with resources that help them research, discuss and use rule of law principles to analyse current legal issues.
How do we define the rule of law?
There are many formulations of the rule of law, and the best way for school students to understand its importance is to see how it relates to other major ideas:
The Rule of Law and Human Rights Principles
- The Presumption of Innocence
- Fair Trial
- Independent Judiciary
The Rule of Law and the Characteristics of Just Laws + Political Principles
- Free Speech and Media
- Transparent and Accountable Government
- Clear, certain and consistent laws
The Rule of Law and Social Justice and Welfare
- Access to justice
The Criminal Organisations Control Act 2009 (QLD) was introduced to deal with organised crime gangs which operate in Queensland. This law allows for an organisation such as a motorcycle club to be declared as being involved in serious criminal activity, and for control orders to be made for its members which prevent them from associating with each other. The Queensland laws withstood a challenge in the High Court this year in Assistant Commissioner Michael James Condon v Pompano Pty Ltd  HCA 7. This case upheld the provisions of the law which allow information gathered by police to be declared “criminal intelligence”. Information gathered by police from informants inside these organisations, or from other sensitive sources, is brought before a closed hearing of the Supreme Court of Queensland, where a judge makes a decision about whether to declare it criminal intelligence for the purpose of them making a declaration of an organisation or control orders.
The problem with this process is that it does not allow those who are the subject of the information to question its reliability in court. Closed hearings are against the principle of open justice and greatly diminish transparency. The presumption of innocence is also diminished by the fact that a person can be placed in jail for breaching a control order, without having ever had the opportunity to challenge the evidence used against them. If there is evidence that individuals are involved in criminal activities then they should be charged with a specific criminal offence, not for the act of simply associating. RoLIA’s booklet on the Queensland law provides an explanation in greater detail and some suggested reading.
The actions of some members of alleged criminal organisations, and their associates, have spilled out onto the streets, and include criminal activity which poses a serious threat to society, such as the selling of drugs, money laundering, and other serious criminal activities. While there are serious difficulties in pursuing organised crime this is not a justification for inherently unfair laws. Law enforcement agencies deserve much credit for protecting society from crime, and an important part of this discussion is the extent to which they are adequately resourced to deal with organised crime.
A key question to consider which goes beyond the rule of law objections to these laws is: how can law enforcement agencies be supported by government, the law and the community to deal fairly and effectively with organised crime?
Freedom of Speech and the Right to Assemble
Free speech and the right to assemble are very important principles in maintaining the rule of law. The use of power by government should be open to fair scrutiny, and people should be able to assemble in public for a common purpose to voice their opinion. RoLIA’s research guide details a recent High Court case Monis v the Queen  HCA 4 and outlines the right to assemble under Queensland law. There is also a series of training videos which show you how to research High Court cases, see the links below.
RoLIA’s CEO, Kate Burns, has also put together an excellent paper which explains in clear terms case law from the past 20 years to do with the freedom of political communication in Australia. It summarises recent High Court decisions as well as a recent case regarding a public servant’s use of Twitter to attack the government. The central discussion with regard to the rule of law and free speech is this:
- What are the limits of free speech in Australia? (offensive language? racial vilification?)
- What does the implied freedom of political communication found by the High Court in the Constitution allow a person to do?
- What are the legal limitations on the right to assemble?
Researching and Understanding Judgments from the High Court of Australia
This series of videos takes you through how to find judgment summaries, use a reading strategy to begin to understand a judgment, gather information about a case from its citation, and legal terminology associated with judgments in the High Court of Australia. Download the accompanying notes for: