Sunday, April 8, 2012

Liberals put Attorney-General Greg Smith on trial

Barclay Crawford | The Sunday Telegraph | April 08, 2012 

ATTORNEY-GENERAL Greg Smith has come under fire from within his own party for appointing judges with a history of defending accused terrorists.

Peter Phelps MLC said Mr Smith needed to explain why he believed his last three judicial appointments were appropriate for "a conservative government", given their records as barristers.

The Sunday Telegraph has been told Mr Phelps' concerns - raised in the government's closed party room before Parliament met on Monday - echo growing fears within the party about Mr Smith's alleged "Left leanings" and "soft on crime" stance on judicial issues.

While Mr Phelps refused to comment on the altercation, saying his "one rule in politics is not to discuss party room in public", a number of other MPs have confirmed his attack on the Attorney-General.

Mr Smith's controversial appointments were made last month when Robert Beech-Jones, SC, Peter Maiden, SC, and Chris Hoy, SC, were all sworn in.

Mr Beech-Jones, who was appointed to the Supreme Court on March 1, appeared for former Guantanamo Bay detainee and accused terrorist Mamdouh Habib, while Mr Hoy, who was appointed a judge in the District Court on March 15, was part of the legal team which appeared in the High Court seeking the release and repatriation from Guantanamo Bay of David Hicks.

Mr Hicks was convicted of terrorist offences for his time in Afghanistan and Pakistan training with al-Qaeda.

Meanwhile, Mr Maiden, who was appointed to the District Court on March 7, defended disgraced Labor minister Milton Orkopoulos, jailed for 13 years for having sex with underage boys he had plied with drugs.

One MP said you could have "heard a pin drop" when Mr Phelps began questioning the Attorney-General.

Another MP said that many within the government were concerned with Mr Smith's political leanings, which were often "closer to the Left of the Labor party on issues of prisoner rehabilitation and sentencing".

"The first party he joined was the Labor Party. He doesn't have a Liberal Party bone in his body," one MP said. "He's being called the softest Attorney-General ever.

"This is not a good look for a conservative government. We want to be seen to be tough on crime."

Mr Smith, a former member of the Labor Party, responded to Mr Phelps' concerns by saying he had worked with at least one of the men during his time as a prosecutor.

Mr Smith also said he had great faith in their judgment and ability and his spokesman defended the decision to appoint the three barristers and lashed out at Mr Phelps.

"Is he [Mr Phelps] going to suggest that everyone who acted as a public defender is unsuitable? That would rule out a lot of judges," he said.

"Advocates are sometimes required to represent unpopular clients and it is part of the strength of our justice system that leading silks take on this duty. It's called the cab-rank principle."

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