SELECTIVE HUMAN RIGHTS MR HAMPEL?
The consensus is that former Supreme Court judge George Hampel
and his barrister wife Felicity are entitled to feature in an article
(Age A3 Monday 25 August 2003) without someone expecting a right of reply.
If it were Burke's Backyard or some lifestyle program I'd agree.
However, when the article is a glowing tribute to Hampel's 'love
of fairness' and his fierce resistance to those who 'compromise
freedom' and 'dehumanise victims', and when he is described as a
Renaissance man with an unbridled commitment to human rights it
should not pass without comment.
It's well documented in many articles and in my book 'Just another
little murder' how my sister, Vicki, was parking her car outside
her place of work in a quiet street in Coburg when her former boyfriend
arrived, armed with a large hunting knife, packing tape and other
implements. Vicki was a kindergarten teacher. Peter Keogh was a
man with a violent history.
By the time the court case had concluded in February 1989 I'd
joined the ranks of those who believed the criminal justice system
had lost touch with the lives of ordinary people. It was my considered
view that Vicki's human rights had been trampled upon and those
of the killer had been elevated beyond imagination. Justice Hampel
appeared to have lost sight of the human rights of my sister. When
I see him proclaiming his commitment to those killed by genocidal
murderers I wonder what Vicki did wrong.
Although my sister was dragged from the driver's side door around
the front of the car and into the passenger side seat and stabbed
to death, Hampel still saw grounds for a legal defense of provocation.
The words spoken by Vicki when Keogh set upon her were sufficient,
said the judge, to support an argument that Keogh might simply have
lost control as any ordinary man with his alleged depression could
do. I have never wavered from the view that this was a dangerous
and unfounded ruling and that the Department of Public Prosecutions
should have tested it in an Appeal Court. I still say he was wrong
Confused by the ruling, and confounded by cultural assumption,
the jury found Vicki's killer guilty only of manslaughter. Despite
Keogh's well-documented history of physical and sexual violence,
Hampel settled on a sentence that saw the killer walk from gaol
less than four years after leaving Vicki dying in the street. In
the eyes of thinking people Keogh had the heart of a Nazi concentration
camp guard or ethnic cleanser.
In Just another little Murder I explored the role of patriarchy
in Keogh's escape from real justice. Along the way I asked why the
legal fraternity didn't express its outrage and whether George Hampel
wasn't locked in an antiquated mode of thinking. Although he wishes
to be considered a 'Renaissance' man, there was nothing of a new
beginning in Vicki's trial and the way her rights were proscribed.
This is not the only time Justice Hampel has been accused
by a victim's family of being soft when dealing with the killing
of a woman. A violent man, Mark Bottriell, bashed Sandra Smart's
young daughter to death in 1998. After a plea bargain that reduced
the conviction to manslaughter, Hampel sent him to gaol for three
years. Bottriell is now back in gaol after being found guilty of
assaulting his latest girlfriend. Noel McNamara was so emotionally
distraught when Hampel sentenced the man who murdered his daughter
to ten years gaol in 1993 he founded the Victims of Crime Association.
The legal fraternity, along with those civil libertarians who claim
to be wedded to human rights need to be reminded that refugees
and the victims of genocide or totalitarianism aren't the only underdogs
in this world. So often the underdog is a girl from the neighbourhod,
a girl killed for do doing nothing more than asserting her right
to leave a relationship. If Hampel had shown the same passion for
Vicki's human rights as he appears to hold for refugees and the
victims of state sponsored violence I'd be on his side. But defending
people against violence isn't restricted to prosecuting war criminals
in The Hague.
Every woman killed by a former partner in the family setting is
as important as those who lie in unmarked mass graves in the Balkans,
Iraq or anywhere else. It's time the civil libertarians grasped
that one fact. When sentencing Keogh, George Hampel could find not
a word of comfort for my parents. His two and a half page sentencing statement
contained not a single reference to the pain the killer had wrought
upon an ordinary law-abiding family. Instead, from his privileged
position he lambasted the family for having, in the depths of grief
and sorrow, broken bourgeois protocol and spoken audibly about the
verdict. I've never forgotten that day.
PHIL CLEARY - AUGUST 2003
JUDGE OF THE MONTH
Justice Robert Redlich wins our judge of the month award for a
profound observation in the case involving the killing of a woman
by her ex. Francis Rhook was shot dead by John William Sypott (her
ex boyfriend) in her house six months after their separation. Even
though Ms Rhook had another boyfriend and wasn't living with Sypott,
Justice Redlich still found it necessary to use the words 'domestic
quarrel' when sentencing the killer.
Can someone please explain to these blokes in wigs that they need
to bone up on contemporary life? A woman shot dead by an intruder,
even if he's the ex boyfriend, is not engaged in a domestic quarrel.
It's a home invasion, an assault and an act of harassment. Let's
hope the DPP challenges the sentence on the grounds that the judge's
words display a flawed, if not prejudicial, understanding of the
Sypott had a history of barging his way into Frances Rhook's house.
It was revealed in the court that she had tried to stop him doing
this. At what point is a woman free of her former partner? Can someone
please explain? At what point does she cease to be his property?
At what point is the word 'domestic' no longer appropriate?
After the Crown accepted a plea bargain that reduced the charge
to manslaughter the killer went down for three years. Sypott said
he only went to Ms Rhook's house to commit suicide. Seriously!
The Attorney-General Rob Hulls has rejected calls for minimum sentences,
saying: "All that it does is turn politicians into judge, jury
and executioner and ignores the fact that every case is different."
That's fair enough. But does he have no view about Redlich's comments?