National security legislation is being misused to prevent a fair trial in Collaery case
27th Mar 2019
The Australian Lawyers Alliance (ALA) is alarmed by reports that national security legislation is being misused and causing protracted delays in the prosecution of Witness K and Collaery.
The ALA said a report in online news site Crikey yesterday describing delays and tactics being used by the prosecution and Attorney-General Christian Porter in the case was disturbing.
“The Crikey report indicates that our national security legislation is having the effect of undermining Witness K and Collaery’s right to a fair trial,” said spokesperson for the ALA, Greg Barns. “By insisting on secrecy the Government is able to delay proceedings, withhold information and generally make the process as difficult as possible for Collaery without any justification.”
Prosecutors initiated action against Collaery and Witness K in June 2018 and they will have been before the courts for more than 14 months by the time the preliminary hearing, which is closed to the public, concludes in August this year.
“The inordinate delays in this trial are having a serious personal impact on the people involved – the extended timeline is just not fair on them. It is very difficult for Mr Collaery to continue with his usual work as a lawyer in Canberra while this action is proceeding,” said Mr Barns. “We believe the lack of transparency and the ongoing delays breach Collaery and Witness K’s human rights.
“The ALA is concerned that the reach and scope of Australia’s security legislation has steadily increased since the early 2000s without corresponding increases in human rights protections. The Collaery/Witness K case bears out the concerns we have often expressed about the federal National Security and Information Act.
“Transparency and accountability must always underpin our national security policy. The default position should always be transparency - only where there is a demonstrable need for secrecy on national security grounds should secrecy be allowed.
“By implementing such draconian and far-reaching security laws Australia is becoming more like the authoritarian countries that our security laws were originally supposed to protect us from. We can see this playing out in the prosecution of Bernard Collaery.
“Our rights to privacy, freedom of expression and liberty are particularly impacted by our approach to national security. Currently our laws do not restrict severe penalties and secretive behaviour to the circumstances in which it is necessary or proportionate to the threat faced,” Mr Barns said.
The ALA awarded Mr Collaery its 2018 Civil Justice Award for his body of work including his service to Timor-Leste at a ceremony in Melbourne last year.