Thursday, June 16, 2011

Lawyers slam mandatory terms for asylum sailors

Mark Dodd | The Australian | 15 June 2011
MANDATORY sentencing of Indonesian fishermen dumped on eastern states courts to face people-smuggling charges will do little to deter asylum-seekers, consumes scarce judicial resources and costs taxpayers millions, lawyers warn.
Defence lawyers have told The Australian mandatory sentences of five years for people-smugglers risks overcrowding jails and lengthening delays in court proceedings.
Since January about 300 alleged people-smugglers have been transferred from overcrowded facilities in northern Australia for processing by Victorian, NSW and Queensland courts.
Defence lawyers say almost all are itinerant fishermen - many unaware they have committed a crime.
"Queensland's jails are at bursting point and they've (the federal government) just dumped 100 federal prisoners on us, so Corrective Services are saying where are we going to put them?," said one barrister.
"The other point is, this offence is drawn very broadly and has very severe consequences - you must get five years."
Indonesian fishermen were being "demonised" by the federal government, said Australian Lawyers for Human Rights president Stephen Keim SC, who issued a scathing indictment of mandatory sentencing laws.
"Under Australian law, Oskar Schindler would be committing offences for protecting Jews from Nazi Germany," Mr Keim said, referring to the World War II German industrialist who saved hundreds of Jews from the gas chambers.
"The Indonesian fishermen who are hired to crew these boats don't know a lot about what they are putting themselves in for."
None of those facing justice in Queensland courts could be regarded as kingpins, the defence lawyer said. "The real smugglers are the entrepreneurs working out of Pakistan, Malaysia and Indonesia, who are making millions.
Earlier this month, Brisbane District Court acting judge Brad Farr slammed mandatory sentences for people-smuggling after jailing for a minimum of five years two Indonesian men who helped bring refugees to Australia.
Just weeks earlier, Northern Territory Supreme Court judge Judith Kelly called on federal Attorney-General Robert McClelland to "extend mercy" to two men convicted of a second people-smuggling offence who were each handed eight-year sentences.
A UN refugee agency study released on Friday says locking up asylum-seekers does not act as a deterrent and is in breach of humanitarian law.
"No empirical evidence is available to give credence to the assumption that the threat of being detained deters irregular migration," the report says.

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