National Civil Justice Award 2011 recognises NT barrister

18th Nov 2011

Northern Territory retired barrister, Colin McDonald QC has been announced as the winner of this year’s Australian Lawyers Alliance National Civil Justice Award at the non-profit organisation’s national conference on Hamilton Island on the weekend.

The award recognises unsung heroes who, despite personal risk or sacrifice, have fought to preserve individual rights, human dignity or safety. Recent past winners include: Malcolm Fraser, Cornelia Rau’s lawyer Claire O’Connor and David Hicks’ lawyer Major Michael Mori.

Australian Lawyers Alliance National President, Greg Barns, said Mr McDonald was recognised for his tireless work to improve the rights of Indigenous people in the Northern Territory and the work he did in saving Australians Scott Rush and Renae Lawrence from the death penalty.

Mr McDonald, arrived at the conference direct from Jakarta and Bali, where a poor, powerless, young Nigerian man, Titus Ani, is in the final stages of his Supreme Court application to have his death penalty sentence overturned.

Mr McDonald said use of the death sentence often depended on the delicate political pressures within countries and the existence of more than 220 poor, Indonesian migrant workers on death row outside Indonesia including: The Middle East, Malaysia and China and this had raised the issue more prominently with Indonesian citizens now questioning its use.

“Many ordinary Indonesian citizens reacted adversely and were upset by the beheading of a 54-year-old Indonesian domestic worker in Saudi Arabia for the killing of her employer in reported circumstances where self defence was involved,” Mr McDonald said.

“The maid died on the eye-for-an-eye principle. This was disputed by Indonesian Sharia law experts in Indonesia as the Indonesian Government was not accorded the diplomatic courtesy to be notified of the execution. Execution of migrant workers abroad, mainly women, has led to a whole public outcry about the death penalty generally,” he said.

“In terms of Australian citizens facing the death penalty overseas Indonesians have the same burden but on a larger scale. And this is not something that is adequately comprehended here in Australia.”

Mr McDonald QC was the subject of an ABC Australian Story profile in February 2006, where he discussed concerns about the role of the Australian Federal Police in handing over Australian citizens to a country that administered the death penalty when he pointed to ‘a policy blackhole’ in the AFP that was risking the lives of Australians caught up in trouble overseas.

Mr McDonald was admitted as a solicitor in Victoria in 1975 and worked at the Victorian Bar from 1980 to 1981 where he read with Frank Vincent, now the recently-retired Justice Vincent of the Victorian Supreme Court.

He moved to the Territory to practice law in 1981 as a solicitor with the North Australian Aboriginal Legal Aid Service and worked with the service until 1984. He joined the Independent Bar in May 1984 and was appointed Queen’s Counsel on 24 January, 1997.

He was inaugural Criminal Lawyers Association president and a former president of the Northern Territory Bar Association along with being a member of the Australian Indonesian Institute between 1989 and 1994. His areas of practice included: administrative and public law, appeals, commercial law, company law, constitutional law, criminal law, defamation media and intellectual property law, equity partnerships and trusts, human rights, Injunctions, inquiries, insurance, international law, mining resources.

Lawyers for the people, Australian Lawyers Alliance, which has 1300 members Australia-wide and speaks out widely on access to justice issues including the need for drugs to be treated as a health issue, rather than a criminal justice issue, and the arrest of a 14-year-old Newcastle boy was evidence of this.

The conference, which ran over three days at the Hamilton Island Convention Centre, is a peak legal event offering the opportunity for lawyers and academics from all over Australia, to exchange expert knowledge in a range of fields from personal injury law to international government policy and constitutional law.

Tags: Civil Justice Award