NORTHERN Territory Supreme Court Chief Justice Brian Martin has condemned the federal Government's stance on accused terrorist David Hicks, an inmate of Guantanamo Bay for four years, arguing that a "civilised" society should never sanction such incarceration.
In a wide-ranging speech to the Darwin Press Club, Justice Martin yesterday asked whether there were any political leaders prepared to demand "fundamental protections" for individual members of the community.
"Whatever one might think about what David Hicks did or did not do -- and we have no idea because evidence has not yet been presented -- is it not totally foreign to our understanding of how a civilised community treats persons charged with offences to incarcerate the person for over four years in conditions to which David Hicks has been subjected?" Justice Martin said.
"Is it excessive to say that he has been caged and left to the whims of treatment which we in Australia have always regarded as utterly unacceptable?
"Why have our political leaders generally defended this treatment? Is it because David Hicks represents an unpopular cause and political purposes and interests prevail in the minds of our leaders?
"Where is the strength of leadership that demands and provides fundamental protections for individual members of our community?
"I stress that these issues have nothing to do with the guilt or innocence of Hicks or any other individual subjected to such treatment. Other issues fundamental to our ordered and relatively comfortable way of life are at stake."
Justice Martin said a "revolution in our thinking" had occurred following the September 11 terrorist attacks that suggested a different attitude was emerging towards people arrested under new terror laws.
He said society was "greatly diminished" when innocent people were convicted of crimes.
"Have we as a community come to accept the risks of innocent persons being convicted as a necessary casualty of the need to protect the community from acts of terrorism?" he said.
Later, Justice Martin raised the issue of media access to court cases on Aboriginal communities, saying the principles of open court and the Northern Territory's permit system were in conflict.
"This is an issue that needs to be addressed," he said.
He also took issue with comments last November by John Hartigan, chief executive of News Limited, publisher of The Weekend Australian, who said the Government and judiciary were "increasingly secretive and self-serving in their attempts to gag the media".
"While the media have a legitimate point that some judicial officers are too cautious and grant suppression orders too readily, the courts are not secretive," Justice Martin said.
"Almost everything is done in open court, including the giving of evidence that is suppressed. Rarely is the court closed to the public."