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Announcing the ‘Restoring the Presumption of Innocence’ Workshop

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Widespread concern about the state of our justice system recently came to head with the NSW Director of Public Prosecutions, Sally Dowling SC, announcing she was conducting an audit of all NSW sexual assault cases committed for trial. This decision came after months of denying that her office was failing to follow proper guidelines for prosecuting these matters, choosing instead to give most alleged victims their day in court.     

Over the last seven months six senior NSW district court judges have blown the whistle on the way our rape trials are being mishandled. They called out the actions of Dowling and her staff for pushing unmeritorious cases into court – which were often thrown out by juries.

In late February District Court Judge Peter Whitford pointed out that pushing through such cases risks “drawing the criminal justice system into disrepute.” He said there is “something disturbingly Orwellian, even surreal” about the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions (ODPP) publishing guidelines which base the decision to proceed on “rational, professional, interrogation of the merits of the case and the prospects of conviction,” but then, choosing to operate by reference to “opaque, even secret, policies” which undermine these guidelines.

The secret policies he alludes to are based on believe-all-women justice where a victim’s allegations alone are sufficient to warrant going to trial.  Whitford called on other judges to speak out about this problem “that now appears to be endemic,” saying this is the only prospect of a remedy to this concerning problem.

This is the latest development in a series of court cases, inquiries and other events, which have exposed major problems with our justice system. The Sofronoff inquiry exposed a recent shift away from proper police investigations towards “believe-all-women” ideology, with complainants referred to as “victims” and their statement being sufficient evidence to proceed to trial. At a recent inquiry in Queensland, the police union spoke out about high rates of false allegations of domestic violence. A YouGov Survey has found Australia has one of the highest rates of false allegations in the world, mainly linked to child custody disputes. 

The ASF holds legitimate concerns where potential miscarriages of justice may infringe grievously upon basic human rights. The presumption of innocence is a fundamental attribute of a civilised, democratic society. The abrogation of the principle of the presumption of innocence opens the door to indiscriminate political oppression, restriction on the freedom of speech and the expansion authoritarian government. Around the world only 1 in 10 individuals live in countries perceived as ‘democratic’ and the principle of the presumption of innocence as an intrinsic right is the last defence of the individual against tyranny. The ASF embraces ideas that promote  “better institutions that embed respect for freedom and scientific approaches for society’s problems.” Currently 37% of Australian prisoners are held in remand without a conviction, nor having been to trial and that number increased by 16% in 2023.

A well-functioning, fair justice system is essential for a cohesive society. The AFS has decided the time seemed right to encourage proper public discussion of this vital issue – bringing together real experts to tell the story of what is going on and to talk about what’s needed to achieve a fairer system.

Hence we have announced our one-day conference on Restoring the Presumption of Innocence – an educational event involving expert speakers including criminal barristers, lawyers, a professor of law and numerous other professionals. It is a gathering of highly experienced and qualified individuals keen to share knowledge and raise concerns about unfair treatment in our courts.

The conference is being held on June 1, at Rushcutters Bay in Sydney. More details are available here, including bookings for tickets. The conference will also be live streamed across the world.

The conference is being sponsored by Mothers of Sons – an organization of mothers keen to expose the injustice their sons have faced in our criminal and family law systems.

Speakers will include Professor Augusto Zimmermann, a Perth-based law professor and former Law Reform Commissioner who, in that role, fought against proposed domestic violence laws which he rightly predicted would be used to destroy the lives of many innocent men. There will be eminent lawyers including Chris Merritt, Vice President of the Rule of Law Institute. We will hear from Ian Jones, the father who fought for five years to have Sara Jane Parkinson, his son’s false accuser, sent to prison. 

Experts on statistics will examine extensive data in alleged rape cases, outlining what international research is available.  A whistle-blower will be questioning how key organisations providing domestic violence services are demonising male victims. Bettina Arndt will be speaking about the alleged rape crisis on our campuses and the shameful kangaroo courts and a Mother of Sons representative will tell the story of her son’s wrongful imprisonment.

The conference will include stories from individuals who were not given the presumption of innocence but suffered greatly as a result of being publicly named and shamed before their cases were heard. The main idea of the conference is to let people across Australia know there’s a growing community of people keen to address the disregard of the right to the presumption of innocence and it’s implication for liberty.  It will give heart to the many families dealing with unfair treatment in our courts to know their plight is being acknowledged. Last year there were a truly staggering 59,000 Domestic Violence Orders issued in Queensland alone, that’s twice as many DVO’s as there were male births and more than twice as many as there are marriages. Little wonder therefore that Queensland is facing a surge in juvenile crime as the number of children within broken homes skyrockets.

Queensland introduced harsh DVO legislation in 2012 to reduce rates of Intimate Partner Homicide (IPH). Almost half of all IPH occurs in the context of a DVO and women who were identified as the protected individual perpetrated the majority of these homicides according to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. Furthermore breaches of DVO’s are in excess of 90% as desperate parents will do anything to reach out to their children. As violations of DVO’s attract a potential criminal conviction, at the current rate of increase a quarter of all Queensland men will have a criminal record within 25 years. These numbers beggar belief and will lead to a catastrophic collapse in parenting practices unless action is taken. As Martin Luther King said ‘Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere’. Australia seems to be heading down a dangerous path that threatens not only our individual freedoms, but also the entire fabric of our civil society. It’s time to acknowledge the system isn’t working, to question whether our once august institutions are now failing us and ask the hard questions to effect the change that’s urgently required.

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  • Dr David Richards

    Dr David Richards is an Australian General Practitioner and Adjunct Professor at an Australian University in the faculty of medicine. He graduated from London University in 1984, having also completed an Honours Degree in Human Genetics and Immunology. He has peer reviewed papers for a major European Journal and presented at International Conferences on Genetics and Carotid Ultrasound.

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