The Australian Book of Great Trials: The cases that shaped a nation


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He suggested Mr Shorten curb his "extraneous answers", saying that Mr Stoljar was entitled to pursue his plan for the examination. Almost two decades earlier, Mr Stoljar penned a novel called My First Mistake , about a Nordic hero, which he dedicated "to the memory of my father", Samuel, a well-regarded legal academic at the Australian National University. The University of Sydney alumnus was admitted to the bar in and took silk in He has plied his trade as a commercial barrister specialising in property and equity.

A senior barrister said Mr Stoljar began his legal career working at the Consumer Credit Legal Centre "battling for the consumer. At the time the barrister was on the other side of the bar table, representing banks, and found Mr Stoljar a "formidable opponent and a very honest and competent opponent. The barrister, who also knows Commissioner Heydon, said both would be "disgusted" if they knew people had criticised them as political pawns in their respective roles at the royal commission.

Mr Stoljar had appeared for a wide range of commercial and equity law cases, but had not been briefed repeatedly by any section of politics or the community. Another senior barrister, who has worked closely with Mr Stoljar for about 20 years and considers him a good friend, said he was someone with "genuine concern for vulnerable members of society.


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But, like most barristers, he kept his political views private: "I wouldn't have a clue how he votes and I don't think anyone at the bar would know. Sustained criticism from Labor figures has focused largely on the commission rather than Mr Stoljar or Commissioner Heydon personally, although the latter has also been in the crosshairs of Labor figures in recent days.

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Regarded as both a legal and a political conservative with a keen intellect and fierce independence, Commissioner Heydon was appointed to the High Court by the Howard Coalition government in The Australian Crime Commission and the Australian Federal Police were better placed, he said, to deal with any serious criminal allegations.

Mr Shorten is the third Labor leader to face a royal commission called by the Abbott government. Mr Stoljar cleared former prime minister Julia Gillard of any criminal wrong-doing after asking her about her dealings with union officials linked to a slush fund, but said some aspects of her work as a solicitor "appear questionable. Kevin Rudd also previously appeared at a royal commission into the failed home insulation scheme. Lawyers defend Bill Shorten inquisitor Jeremy Stoljar over royal commission performance.

The courtroom drama was replacing the gallows ritual in the public imagination — and the 26 sentences Brown spoke after the white jury found him guilty secured his place in national legend.

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Ralph Waldo Emerson later ranked his speech alongside the Gettysburg Address as one of the finest in American history. Had he battled in defence of the rich and powerful, he said, he would have been not punished but rewarded. But his struggle was for the poor, and the logic of slavery demanded that he die. It was a price he was willing to pay.

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They also satisfy revenge, purge communal resentments, assign limits to deviance, identify acceptable otherness, give victims a say, rationalise change, place controls on the unknown and publicise power. At still another level, they publicise the available answers to a problem and guard the status quo ante by seeking to return a community to its place before the disruption of crime.

It is a shame that a book about eloquence and drama has been written in prose that is mostly devoid of either. He shows the way novelists from Hawthorne to Doctorow have drawn inspiration from the heroes, villains and plots of the trial process. He shows that Mary Surratt — executed for complicity in the plot to assassinate Lincoln — faced particular hostility because she was a woman, and that this misogyny was mirrored by a common media caricature of the defeated Confederacy as a female monstrosity.

The subject is given less than a page, and though he allows that prosecuting terrorists is important, he makes the puzzling claim that neither the public nor the media can be expected to take much interest in their trials. It is a pleasant surprise not then to be bludgeoned by direct analogies; but it soon becomes apparent that Ferguson will not be drawing any parallels at all.

They can therefore be reconciled, by ensuring that high-profile trials are presented to the public in as unmediated a way as possible.

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That could be done by embargoing video images until they have been screened live on the public service C-SPAN cable channel. Silence, it should be remembered, is also a time for reflection. Suggesting that the echo chamber be replaced by the televisual equivalent of a thousand transcripts is not merely fantastic. As Ferguson recognises, the processing of criminal allegations in the US is typified not by trials, but by their avoidance: more than 95 per cent of all charges, thanks to the sticks and carrots of plea bargaining, are not contested.

Raw footage could perhaps teach a few diligent viewers that trials are duller than they think; but in contemporary America, where the right to a judicial hearing has become more circumscribed than at any time in living memory, it would only distract further from the more serious legal dangers. The Trial in American Life uses sociological and literary debate to transcend controversy rather than to engage with it. Ferguson certainly recognises that a transparent trial is no guarantee of justice. But he barely acknowledges the political basis for trials that has always been paramount in US constitutional theory: namely, their function as a check on the power of the executive.

The perpetrators of torture at Abu Ghraib and unauthorised homicide elsewhere in Iraq have, for example, been given their days in court.


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  • But the notion that all wrongdoers might merit equal treatment has been ridiculed from the outset. The judges would be chosen by Rumsfeld or a person appointed by him. Only active or retired military officers would be eligible. Evidence would be admissible regardless of its reliability, and defendants and their lawyers could be removed from the courtroom as and when the authorities decided. Each of those particular claims was eventually struck down by the Supreme Court, but in October the last Republican-controlled Congress approved a second set of similar powers; and though their constitutionality remains uncertain, one of the new generation of military tribunals recently disposed of its first case.

    The Australian Book of Great Trials: The cases that shaped a nation The Australian Book of Great Trials: The cases that shaped a nation
    The Australian Book of Great Trials: The cases that shaped a nation The Australian Book of Great Trials: The cases that shaped a nation
    The Australian Book of Great Trials: The cases that shaped a nation The Australian Book of Great Trials: The cases that shaped a nation
    The Australian Book of Great Trials: The cases that shaped a nation The Australian Book of Great Trials: The cases that shaped a nation
    The Australian Book of Great Trials: The cases that shaped a nation The Australian Book of Great Trials: The cases that shaped a nation
    The Australian Book of Great Trials: The cases that shaped a nation The Australian Book of Great Trials: The cases that shaped a nation

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