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Prime Minister condones conduct that put terrorism trial at risk.



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Wed, 17th September 2008 PRIME MINISTER CONDONES CONDUCT THAT PUT TERRORISM TRIAL AT RISK

Senator the Hon George Brandis SC Shadow Attorney-General

Both the Prime Minister, and the Minister representing him in the Senate, Senator Chris Evans, today condoned reckless comments of the Attorney-General, Robert McClelland, which put at risk Australia’s most important terrorism trial.

In response to questions in the House of Representatives and the Senate this afternoon, the Prime Minister and Senator Evans made light of the serious error of judgment by the Attorney-General, in commenting on the Benbrika prosecution when the jury was still deliberating on charges against two of Benbrika’s co-accused.

The Attorney-General’s comments drew an extraordinary reprimand from the trial judge, Justice Bongiorno, who said: “It is abundantly clear it would have been to the enhancement of justice in this country if these comments had not been made. … They were unnecessary and had the potential to cause difficulties in this trial.”

Senator Evans told the Senate that, despite the judge’s reprimand, the Attorney-General was “acting appropriately”.

The Attorney-General’s comments resulted in an application to discharge the jury and declare a mistrial. Although that application was not granted, they would no doubt provide a ground of appeal against the conviction.

It is extraordinary that the Prime Minister and one of his senior Ministers fail to understand that, by making a statement which, in the words of the judge himself, potentially caused difficulties in the nation’s most important and expensive terrorism trial, the Attorney-General committed a serious breach of his duties of first Law Officer of the Commonwealth. His paramount duty is to protect the integrity of the legal process. Far from doing so, he has prejudiced it.