Friday, May 20, 2011

John Quggin's Reply

Dear Kim,

I'm writing with my thoughts about the Corby case, which you are welcome to post on your blog.

My main concern in the post to which you respond was with the suggestion that Schapelle Corby did not receive a fair trial, by Australian standards, from the Indonesian courts. I would say, on the contrary, that, in a similar case, an Australian trial would almost certainly have produced a conviction. This isn't hypothetical - the case of Chika Honda closely parallels that of Schapelle Corby, except that in Honda's case there was a specific suspect for the planting of drugs in her luggage, and a plausible opportunity. Honda served 10 years jail and her subsequent efforts to clear her name have been, as far as I know, unsuccessful And large numbers of people have been convicted of drug possession offences despite claiming that the drugs weren't theirs.

You point to a variety of sources of possibly exculpatory evidence that weren't pursued. But in fact, the Indonesian courts were more receptive to such evidence than Australian courts would be: for example, the evidence of John Ford regarding possible involvement of baggage handlers would have been excluded as hearsay, a point urged by Mick Keelty if I recall correctly.

As I see it, the injustices here aren't specific to the Corby case but are inherent in the attempt to prohibit drugs. If police had to prove, beyond reasonable doubt that people found with drugs in their luggage knew it was there, very few accused drug smugglers would be convicted. So, in effect, the standard of reasonable doubt has been abandoned in favor of a balance of probabilities rule where someone found with drugs is presumed guility unless they can prove otherwise. That's true of the Corby and Honda cases and of vast numbers of others.

Finally, you point to a range of inconsistencies in sentencing. It's certainly true that Indonesian law has much more severe penalties for drug offences than for crimes that any reasonable person would judge to be more serious. But, as in the case of the Bali Nine, that hasn't stopped Australian police from providing intelligence to the Indonesians. It's also true that there are particular Indonesian cases where criminals got off much more lightly for crimes that appear more serious. But exactly the same is true in any legal system including Australia's.

To sum up, I see Schapelle Corby's case as one of many examples of the effects of harsh and ultimately futile drug prohibition laws, operating in Australia and most other countries. I hope that her clemency appeal succeeds. But I think that an approach to the case that represents her as a victim of Indonesian injustice is both wrong and likely to prove counterproductive.

John Quiggin