Courts wa­ter­ing down sen­tences handed to ex­trem­ists


JUDGES are dra­mat­i­cally re­duc­ing the fines of anti-Adani ac­tivists by thou­sands of dol­lars on ap­peal and have even or­dered po­lice to pay the le­gal costs of pro­test­ers.

Judges are over­rul­ing the de­ci­sions of re­gional mag­is­trates, ar­gu­ing the sen­tences are ex­ces­sive or re­duc­ing fines be­cause pro­test­ers are on wel­fare, de­spite some own­ing thou­sands in as­sets.

JUDGES are dra­mat­i­cally re­duc­ing the fines of anti-Adani ac­tivists by thou­sands of dol­lars on ap­peal and have or­dered po­lice to pay the costs of pro­test­ers who pleaded guilty.

North Queens­land mag­is­trates have col­lec­tively slapped 10 anti-Adani pro­test­ers with $82,000 in fines, but on ap­peal in Dis­trict Courts, have had their fines cut to $22,000

– a re­duc­tion of $60,000. Judges – in­clud­ing former civil lib­er­tar­ian Ian Dear­den – are set­ting aside the de­ci­sions of re­gional mag­is­trates, find­ing the sen­tences ex­ces­sive.

The pro­test­ers, who locked them­selves on to rail­way lines or broke into Adani’s Ab­bot Point Port coal ter­mi­nal to stop op­er­a­tions, have in part re­ceived much lighter fi­nan­cial pun­ish­ments on ap­peal be­cause they are on wel­fare – although some have hun­dreds of thou­sands of dol­lars in as­sets. Mor­ri­son Govern­ment min­is­ters, in­dus­try lead­ers and min­ing com­pa­nies are to­day call­ing on the Palaszczuk Govern­ment and ju­di­ciary to en­sure penal­ties are in step with com­mu­nity ex­pec­ta­tions.

Bowen Mag­is­trates Court heard that 13 hours of pro­tester dis­rup­tion at Ab­bot Point coal ter­mi­nal in Jan­uary last year had a “cost im­pact” of more than $7 mil­lion.

Judge Dear­den in Septem­ber re­duced the $10,000 fine lev­elled against Freya Rowe Nolan, 21, to $1000.

Nolan, from West­ern Aus­tralia, pleaded guilty to tres­pass on a rail­way, ob­struct­ing a rail­way and ob­struct­ing po­lice in Bowen Mag­is­trates Court in April this year.

The anti-Adani ac­tivist, on youth al­lowance, locked her arms into a steel de­vice and at­tached it to a rail­way line in Bowen. Po­lice were called but she re­fused to move. They had to buy gloves and saw blades from Bun­nings to re­move Nolan, who had been at­tached to the de­vice for three hours. She was ini­tially or­dered by Bowen Mag­is­trates Court to also pay po­lice $1565 in resti­tu­tion. Nolan said in her no­tice of ap­peal: “I am 21 years old and on youth al­lowance, with no crim­i­nal record. A fine of $10,000, the big­gest in Aus­tralia’s en­vi­ron­men­tal his­tory, would be a sig­nif­i­cant fi­nan­cial bur­den to me and is not in pro­por­tion to the of­fence I com­mit­ted.”

Judge Dear­den set aside the resti­tu­tion or­der and or­dered po­lice pay Nolan $1800 in costs in­stead – with no con­vic­tion recorded.

Judge Dear­den is a former pres­i­dent of the Queens­land Coun­cil for Civil Lib­er­ties. While he was a judge in 2016, he par­tic­i­pated in an En­vi­ron­men­tal De­fend­ers Of­fice event at the Wood­ford Folk Fes­ti­val.

When The Courier-Mail asked Queens­land Courts if Judge Dear­den could give the pub­lic con­fi­dence that he could hear cli­mate ac­tivists’

cases with­out fear or favour, a spokes­woman said: “Queens­land judges hear and im­par­tially de­ter­mine mat­ters based on the ev­i­dence pre­sented and not per­sonal opin­ion.”

In an­other case on Jan­uary 11 last year, Juliet La­mont, 48, Luca La­mont, 20, Ni­cholas Avery, 28, Jef­fery Can­tor, 72, and Tess New­port, 23, un­law­fully en­tered the Ab­bot Point port fa­cil­ity.

New­port climbed about 50 me­tres in a coal-load­ing tres­tle and locked on to it. The other de­fen­dants also locked on to the tres­tle, above mov­ing ma­chin­ery, forc­ing ter­mi­nal staff to shut down op­er­a­tions. They re­fused to obey po­lice di­rec­tions and two pro­test­ers had to be cut down from the struc­ture. All were ar­rested.

A week later, John Ross, 70, Li­isa Ru­sa­nen, 37, Daniel Sk­er­rett, 30, and Ella Sk­er­rett, 27, mir­rored the pro­test­ers’ ac­tion.

Their cases were heard in Bowen Mag­is­trates Court in March last year and all pleaded guilty to charges of tres­pass, con­tra­ven­ing po­lice di­rec­tion and in­ten­tion­ally or reck­lessly in­ter­fer­ing with a port op­er­a­tion. They were all fined $8000, and given the ma­jor­ity of the of­fend­ers lived in­ter­state, com­mu­nity ser­vice was not con­sid­ered a vi­able op­tion. No con­vic­tions were recorded.

On ap­peal, Townsville Judge Greg Lyn­ham re­duced the fines to be­tween $2000 and $3000. Judge Lyn­ham said it was “re­gret­table” that the Mag­is­trates Court was not told about the de­fen­dants’ en­tire fi­nan­cial cir­cum­stances.

He said the law man­dated that in hand­ing down a fine, the court had to take into ac­count the fi­nan­cial cir­cum­stances of the of­fender and the bur­den of the fi­nan­cial penal­ties on the of­fender.

There is no sug­ges­tion the de­ci­sions of Judge Dear­den (pic­tured right) and Judge Ly­nam were not made ac­cord­ing to law.

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