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Not guilty of being deliberately misleading, it’s just an episode of lazy reporting [In Boomacat’s incompetent opinion]

By boomacat - 27 November 2006 27

If you’d read a recent post of Johnboy’s from a few days ago [ED – Not only am I such a nice guy that I’m letting Boomacat’s grossly unfair attack on me run, I’m also fixing he/she/its incompetent hyperlinking], you could be forgiven for thinking that our criminal justice system was riding the fast train to hell in a handbasket.

For those of you who didn’t catch the story, here’s a quick synopsis Johnboy’s version of events: Peter John Gibson, who admitted to assaulting a couple of women, a police officer and even a dog, received a “not guilty” verdict from Justice Connolly of the Supreme Court of the ACT and effectively got off scott free because he was in the grips of a psychotic episode at the time the acts took place.

Outrage cried the masses! According to my fellow RiotACTers, this proved once and for all that “in the ACT, if you suffer a mental illness, you can get away with anything”, that our Judges were too soft and out of touch with the community and also that in Canberra pleading mental illness was equivalent to a “get out of gaol free card”.

It’s a shame that my RiotACT friends (who are ostensibly internet savvy) didn’t bother to conduct a bit of rudimentary online research before accepting this version of events as gospel and riding off into the sunset to lynch the culprit like a bunch of vigilante thugs. If they had, they’d might have visited the court’s judgement themselves, and they could have discovered that the way in which Johnboy presented the story is unfortunately inaccurate.

Peter John Gibson did NOT receive a regular verdict of “not guilty”. Quite the contrary. He received a ”special” verdict of “not guilty by reason of mental impairment”. This is the modern version of the old common law defence of “insanity” and in no way results in the perpetrator getting off scott free. Justice Connolly explains the distinct nature of this special verdict in his judgement, which can be found on the Supreme Court website.

Paragraph 61 of the judgement explains that under the old common law rules the consequence of such a verdict “was indefinite detention at the Governor’s pleasure”. Under the current law, “the default position is that…the accused should be detained…until the Mental Health Tribunal has had the opportunity to review the matter and determine otherwise. [T]his might be a matter of months or years, if they are a continuing threat to themselves or the community”. Hardly a get out of gaol free card.

As Justice Connolly further explains, there is provision for the Supreme Court to avoid detention and allow the person to be supervised by the Tribunal in the community. His Honour, who acknowledged the disturbing nature of Mr Gibson’s “frankly violent” behaviour, concluded that such an arrangement was the most appropriate option for him. Factors affecting His Honour’s decision included the fact that the defendant’s actions were an aberration unlikely to reoccur and also that “the Mental Health Tribunal did make an order for involuntary detention immediately after these offences, but it lifted this order after one week” (see paragraph 69 of the judgement).

Rather than being the work of an activist, bleeding heart, out of touch judiciary, His Honour’s verdict was actually supported by the Prosecution. See paragraph 55 of the judgement for confirmation of this fact.

The truth about this unfortunate matter is this: Justice Connolly genuinely understood these disturbing events and sentenced the perpetrator, who will now benefit from the careful supervision of the Mental Health Tribunal, accordingly. The judgement is not a transient and ill-conceived outrage; it is actually the well reasoned product of a few hundred years of English law.

I guess the big picture for me is that a great deal of reporting about the law is utter crap, especially when it comes to criminal justice issues, which is unfortunate because it unnecessarily undermines the public’s confidence in the justice system. The reporting of Mr Gibson’s situation is a prime example of this. Don’t allow yourselves to be manipulated, check the facts yourselves and do some independent thinking about the situation next time you stumble across one of these stories.

OK there’s my rant for the week thanks for indulging me.

[ED – At the time of writing the judgment was not available and my “lazy reporting” involved linking (not hashing up a link like Boomacat) to the ABC’s reporting, which Bommacat was unable to find fault with at the time, enjoy]

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27 Responses to
Not guilty of being deliberately misleading, it’s just an episode of lazy reporting [In Boomacat’s incompetent opinion]
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Ari 4:01 pm 30 Nov 06

If Connelly was the Master for some time, where’s Dr Who?

boomacat 4:20 pm 29 Nov 06

Kudos to you Johnboy for publishing the post, especially given my terrible hyperlinking abilities.

I’ll leave it at that cos I reckon I’ve probably already had more than my fair say in connection with this post.

Binker 9:08 pm 28 Nov 06

Here, here, Boomacat.

The neither the Criminal Justice System nor the Mental Health System are perfect (and are probably both at their worst when they intersect), people don’t get slotted when they should and vice versa, however the decision in R v Gibson was sound.

Although His Honour Justice Connelly is relatively new to the criminal law (having been the Master for some time) he is not currently presenting as a soft touch, it should be remembered that he sentenced Sean Michael Burke to 37 years last month (and interestingly in his judgment he noted that sentences should not be “crushing” implying that 37 years wasn’t crushing, although I think he was really just trying to appeal proof his decision).

The judgement (R v Gibson) was up on the SC website by the middle of the afternoon of the 24th, I happened to read it prior to either the ABC or RA being pieces being published (Where do you think ABC got the story it’s not like they had staff at court, and I very much doubt His Honour read out anything more than the Orders in court anyway).

bighead 5:38 pm 28 Nov 06

Cheers for that heavs, slightly better understanding after reading through comments. And Seepi, seems like a good idea to have a mental health facility in the new prison.

While I do agree somewhat that mental illness should be taken into consideration when passing down a verdict. It makes me worry just how many people are ‘mentally ill’.

szeretetta 5:36 pm 28 Nov 06

Perhaps it shouldn’t be the Mental Health Tribunal that should be liable should someone reoffend, but rather the treating doctor. For it is the doctor who provides the reports that the Mental Health Tribunal base their decisions on.

simto 4:05 pm 28 Nov 06

He was temporarily unable to comprehend rules of society due to a mental illness. According to registered professionals, he’s capable of comprehending them now, and his behaviour will not recur.

Now, unless you believe you have a greater level of knowledge about mental health issues than the mental health tribunal, how can you claim with confidence that this is going to recur?

Having said that, I’m also in favour of the Mental Health tribunal being completely legally liable for malpractice should he reoffend…

johnboy 3:26 pm 28 Nov 06

it’s just having had enough, has boomacat directed he/she/its complaint to the ABC which was the acknowledged source of the item?

Make any effort to engage us in discussion rather than abuse?

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