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Lawyers rally against death penalty

Cover Story

Cite as: April 2015 89 (4) LIJ, p.22

Supreme Court judge Lex Lasry led members of the profession in a mercy vigil against the Indonesian executions. 

By Carolyn Ford

For one minute just past 8.30am on Wednesday 18 February, members of the Victorian legal profession stood together in silence, their thoughts with the two Australians sentenced to death in Indonesia.

At the mercy vigil on the County Court forecourt, Supreme Court judge Lex Lasry lit a candle shedding light and hope, and marking the start of the minute’s silence in support of Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran.

More than 500 members of the legal profession attended the vigil, which was supported by the LIV, the Victorian Bar and the Australian Bar Association.

In attendance was Chief Justice Marilyn Warren, County Court Chief Judge Michael Rozenes, Victorian Bar president Jim Peters QC, LIV president Katie Miller, Australian Bar Association president Fiona McLeod SC, Justice Felicity Hampel, shadow Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus QC, former federal MP Barry Jones and city, suburban and regional practitioners.

Representatives of the Chan family also attended the vigil, which was followed by vigils in Bendigo and South Australia, held by their law associations, and by community groups in Federation Square in Melbourne, Sydney and Perth, all on 18 February.

Justice Lasry is a long-time opponent of capital punishment. As a barrister he represented Australian Van Nguyen who was executed in Singapore in 2005 for drug possession.

Before lighting the candle, Justice Lasry told the crowd he had spent time at Kerobokan Prison with the two condemned men “not as a lawyer but as a friend” and that they had been “enormously grateful and moved” by the support offered from home.

He visited them first in 2006 and over the years has seen them develop. There has been “significant rehabilitation and redemption” and the drug traffickers from 2005 have gone, replaced with an accomplished artist and a pastor in an evangelical church. Both men have helped other prisoners. Chan was ordained a Christian minister in prison.

Justice Lasry said the case for their rehabilitation and redemption was overwhelming. “As a judge I have sentenced a number of people over the years. The topic that appears in judicial sentencing is prospects of rehabilitation,” he said, adding stronger prospects for rehabilitation than Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran would not be found.

Justice Lasry said were the two men given a chance to live, it would be an opportunity for them to help prisoners, divert them away from drugs, to set an example of “what can be achieved under adverse circumstances”, to serve Indonesia.

At the vigil, Victorian Bar president Jim Peters QC said the death penalty was barbaric and “not an effective deterrent to crime . . . It only brutalises the community further. We are opposed to the death penalty”.

Addressing the crowd, LIV president Katie Miller said the vigil was to support the condemned men but also the lawyers involved, “who have worked so hard to defend them”, and urged the legal profession to continue its vocal opposition to the death penalty, come what may. “The LIV has a long history of absolutely opposing the death penalty. The legal profession has a long history of saving the lives of people facing the death penalty, whether they are Australian citizens or citizens of other countries,” Ms Miller said.

“Since the Bali nine were arrested, during their trial, their sentence and afterward, members of the legal profession have used every legal avenue available to them to save the lives of Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran.

“Lawyers have signed petitions and lobbied for clemency and mercy. And even when all these things are done, lawyers still ask, ‘what more can I do?’. By being here today, you have done what you can. You have stood in opposition to the death penalty in its application around the world.

“You have joined with your colleagues in Melbourne, and in Bendigo, in saying the legal profession opposes the death penalty.

“Looking out at all the people here today, it is a strong message that I hope is heard in Australia and overseas. You have also played an important role in bearing witness. We are the living memory of the horror of the death penalty and the fact that the legal profession opposes it wherever it is applied. I encourage you to continue your efforts.”

At the Bendigo vigil, lawyers and community members gathered at the Bendigo Justice Centre in support of Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran. A minute’s silence was observed.

Organiser, Bendigo Law Association president Jennifer Digby, said the vigil was a show of solidarity with lawyers and other people across Australia in opposing the death penalty. “We don’t agree with it. We think it harms all of us as people,” Ms Digby said, adding a person’s rehabilitation should be taken into account. “Humanity and mercy must prevail.”

Days earlier, on 13 February, a vigil organised by Monash University law professor Adrian Evans was held in Geelong at All Saints’ Church, Newtown.

“The vigil was dark except for a candle or two and mostly silent, in the Christian tradition,” said Professor Evans. “Bishop Peter Danaher reminded everyone that the barbaric, uncivilised nature of capital punishment is self-evident. That truth has to be our message, since many face their death in this way at the hands of so-called civilised politicians.”

On 4 March, the Australian Bar Association (ABA) called on the Indonesian Attorney General and prison authorities to respect the rule of law and proper judicial process. In a statement, the ABA said it was gravely concerned that the two Australians were moved to Nusakambangan Island for possible execution when they had a legal appeal pending before the Administrative Court of Indonesia.

Law Council of Australia (LCA) president Duncan McConnel said: “The LCA joins with the ABA in expressing its grave concern about the transfer of Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran to Nusakambangan island for execution. In advocating against Indonesia carrying out the death penalty, the LCA has always respected Indonesian laws and sovereignty, however, the transfer occurred before Indonesia’s own legal processes were exhausted.”

At the time of going to print, the final appeal of Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran had been adjourned.

CAROLYN FORD

Comments

Janardan Andrews
Dealers like these would not give a fig if your family members died from consuming their 'goods'. It is disgusting and repugnant that the are achieving martyrdom for their avaricious crimes. What is 'barbaric' is when a judge arbitrarily decides that the life of the murderer is of greater value than that of victim, and therewith punishes the victim's family further by not dispensing proportionate justice. If someone steals $1,000 from me and out of false compassion the judge declares he need only pay back $100, he is merely abetting a thief, and not acting as a saint as they like to belief. They are in reality the blind leading the blind.
26/04/2015 10:54:21 PM


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