You say hijab; I say jihad…

Or vice versa.

In the heart of Western Sydney, five men are facing terrorism charges. They are amongst 8 men who were arrested in NSW and a further 9 men who were arrested in Melbourne in November 2005, just four days after legislation was passed creating some of the offences with which they were charged. They had been under surveillance for the previous 18 months. They have been in gaol ever since. The trial is likely to set a record so far as its length is concerned: it could easily go for the rest of the year and longer.

The charges are serious: some indication of the sentences they might be facing might be gleaned from the 20-year sentence (15 years non-parole) dished out to an offender by the same judge in 2006, which was upheld on appeal by the Court of Criminal Appeal from which special leave to appeal has been refused by the High Court.

The trial commenced with consideration of preliminary legal matters early last year. The trial before the jury commenced in about November last year.

Typically, the prosecution opening got a big splash at the beginning of the jury phase of the trial, but since then there has been remarkably little press coverage. One reason may be that the daily grind of a long trial is just too boring; another is possibly the existence of suppression orders.

The wonderful thing about suppression orders is that you don’t even get told that they exist. They make it difficult for justice to be seen to be done – usually thought of as quite an important consideration. You could go to court and see for yourself what is going on. In fact, that is why we know that there was at least one suppression order, because it was subsequently lifted.

As a result we now know that, shortly after the commencement of the jury phase of the trial, a number of jurors complained that they had been followed from the court to where they were parked by a woman wearing a hijab who had sat at the back of the court and who acted suspiciously, including writing things down. They seem to have feared she was noting their vehicle registration numbers for the purpose of any possible subsequent reprisal against them.

The judge had previously ordered that some of the more elaborate security proposals not be implemented because they would be too prejudicial, but that doesn’t mean that the brouhaha and extreme sense of drama may not all the same have done their work in exciting the jurors’ fears.

A note was passed to the judge about this on 26 November 2008; the suppression order was lifted to enable this to be reported on 20 December 2008.

The judge told them all that he would have the police investigate the matter, but that they shouldn’t assume that the accused had anything to do with it any more than a football team had anything to do with over-the-top behaviour by the team’s supporters. Of course this statement contains a big “even if” premiss which is itself potentially pretty prejudicial.

Presumably the woman in question has since been investigated: that would be a very serious offence, and we have heard nothing of any charges being laid, though they too might be the subject of a suppression order for all we know. It seems to me to be highly probable that if a number of jurors had reason to find the parking location convenient, so might anybody else who chose to attend the trial.

At what point do such fears in themselves provide a basis for saying that the jury has been prejudicially tainted?

The judge told the jurors to keep an open mind and asked them if they were able to. Through the foreman, they replied “”Every juror remains able to discharge his or her task as a juror in this trial impartially.”

In the immortal words of Mandy Rice-Davies, they would say that, wouldn’t they?

In case you are wondering, I’ve not named the judge or the venue or the offender who has been sentenced because I don’t want this page to be found by any jurors in the event that, contrary to directions which must have been given to them, they engage in any casual googling about any of this. You can click on the links to find those things out.

2 Responses to “You say hijab; I say jihad…”

  1. Hamburger Ensemble 2 « Stumbling on melons Says:

    […] be at work here? I’m told that in the lengthy criminal trial to which I have referred before, the jurors have started synchronising the colours of their outfits from day to […]

  2. The jury is still out « Stumbling on melons Says:

    […] Justice Anthony Whealy, who has been presiding at Parramatta over Sydney’s own lengthy terrorist trial, completed his summing up. The trial itself has been going on since early last year, though the […]

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