Relief, and anger: it should never have gotten this far

As you’ve probably heard, there was a glorious victory for common sense in today’s – “today” in the sense of when it was given, but obviously not “today” in the sense of the law under which the case was prosecuted – abortion trial verdict:

A Cairns District Court jury took less than an hour to find Tegan Simone Leach, 21, and her partner Sergie Brennan not guilty of charges of procuring an abortion and supplying drugs to procure an abortion following a three-day trial.

We don’t have many of the formal human rights protections that people in other modern countries enjoy, so it’s a wonderful thing that juries are able to step in and save defendants from massively unjust results when the rest of the system fails.

Not that everyone agrees with that aspect of their role:

the Crown prosecutor sternly reminding the jury “you are not sitting in a court of morals”.

Prosecutor Michael Byrne, SC, told the jury he would be foolish to think the jurors did not hold personal views about abortion, but their job was to uphold the law and if they disagreed with it they should “make their views known at the ballot box”.

Yeah, ‘cos there’s been a recent referendum on abortion (and if there wasn’t, Ms Leach should’ve started a campaign for one before she dared make her decision), and because if the majority decided so, there’d be no problem with the state taking over a woman’s body.

Let’s all be thankful they rejected that submission. I wonder if even Mr Byrne is really all that regretful that they did, although his use of the term “lifestyle choice” makes me suspect, sadly, that perhaps he would.

If they’d returned a verdict of “guilty”, I wonder if Judge Everson would’ve had the power in Queensland to simply find the charges proven – and then dismiss them. If not, if that discretion does not exist in that jurisdiction, then that’s another reason to be thankful for juries.

But that’s not the only emotion many Australians, particularly women, will be feeling now – the other is anger. Anger that this young woman and her partner were put through these two years of hell in the first place. Anger that the law is still on the books; anger that the police investigated it and the prosecutors chose to pursue it; anger that the matter could not be struck out earlier. Let’s hope the law is changed urgently, and that in the meantime Queensland police and prosecutors recognise the futility of putting these charges before the courts. This must not happen again.

Relief and anger. Let’s make sure they don’t dissipate before they achieve a lasting change to this destructive Queensland law.

UPDATE: Check out the “lock this young woman up” side trying to pretend that they’re trying to protect women!

Keeping abortion in the criminal code she says, “Provides a thin veneer of protection for women who are being pressured into abortion and that would be gone if the pro-abortion lobby got their way.”

The only way to keep them safe is to put them on trial and send them to prison. Of course.

UPDATE #2: And John Birmingham eviscerates the Bligh government for its cowardice in the matter.

9 responses to “Relief, and anger: it should never have gotten this far

  1. weewillywinkee

    I was very angry and upset when I heard this case was going to trial. I am even more angry that this young couple have been dragged through the newspapers and their private life splashed across our screens.

    I am most angry that these laws even exist. QLD needs to get rid of them ASAP.

  2. jordanrastrick

    I read that the judge instructed the jury to interpret the law in quite a specific fashion: the phrasing about the substance being poisonous (“noxious” I think was the actual term) should be understood as meaning harmful to the mother, not just to the foetus. If that were the case, it sounds like the judge stepped out on a common law limb to get around the unfortunate statute – which means the verdict might potentially be up for

    Also it seems strange to me that a lawyer would celebrate jury nullification just because he happens to agree with the outcome.

  3. baldrickjones

    Ignoring the specific circumstances of this trial (of which I agree with the outcome), what are the issues associated with a jury returning a not guilty verdict even though the couple were clearly guilty under the law as it stands and had admitted to the “crime”?

    Can juries just ignore the law? Scenario: a jury is composed of people who subscribe to a particular religion (any religion) and under their religion something that is against the law, is permitted under their religion. Could they just deliver a “not guilty” verdict in the face of the law? Am I wrong here or does this set a dangerous precedent. I would appreciate informed feedback on this.

  4. “Can juries just ignore the law? ”

    Oral sex is still illegal in some states in the U.S.

    If that doesn’t explain the dangerous precedent you claim, I suggest you ask Iain Hall, he will no doubt have a qualified, concise, informed,and educated answer for you.

  5. Juries aren’t supposed to just ignore the law – but because they don’t have to give reasons, in practice they can. And do. And, as this case demonstrates, that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

  6. Baldrick, the scenario you suggest is normally avoided because the jury goes through a vetting process beforehand. Sometimes, when people see what bullshit the law is, it doesn’t matter how hard you try, you’ll get people who won’t strictly apply the law.

    Plus I believe the judge gave a peculiar instruction around the law’s interpretation. Even if that’s appealed the not guilty verdict would still stand.

  7. Yeah, it can be used for good or bad. On the one hand lynch mobs and generally any white man who harmed a black would never be convicted by a southern jury, but on the other hand a jury famously also refused to convict in a case where a Quaker was being sent to prison for giving a speech about his faith.

  8. baldrickjones

    Taking into account what Jeremy, AU, lynot and Broggly have just said, I am fairly concerned about the potential for this to go very, very badly. You can vet juries all you want, during the process you could just make yourself out to be a normal person, and then during the trial go back to your ideology. I’m not saying that this is the case at the moment, but what happens if one of the many different types of religions becomes predominant in this country? I suppose they will probably get the law changed through the ballot box anyway if they really want to. The law is there for a reason, even if it is a shit law. Can we follow some laws but ignore others? Which ones can we ignore?

    That’s the point I am trying to make, not to detract from the eminently sensible outcome from this trial.

  9. ” The law is there for a reason, even if it is a shit law. Can we follow some laws but ignore others? Which ones can we ignore?”

    For mine you can ignore what ever it is your own conscience is telling you is a bad law, sure you will possibly suffer the consequences, too bad.Such is the life of a progressive.

    If not for some people breaking laws, of course, that is the brave among us who we get to fire the bullets so to speak, we would still be living in the dark ages.It is unfortunate in some places in the world, people have had to die to make the world a better place by changing the laws.The civil rights movement in the U.S. and South Africa both a case in point.

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