Monday, May 20, 2024

Inside the fight to free Kathlees Folbigg

I was one of those who from an early stage saw the conviction of Kathleen Folbigg as a gross miscarriage of justice.

The law failed her so often that it is the justice system that has ultimately been convicted as not fit for purpose. It has not only been Kathleen Folbigg that has been failed in this case. It is the whole commmuity that as been failed. For an innocent person to have been REPEATEDLY been found guilty is deeply destructive to any faith in the system.

And, as in the Bruce Lehrmann case, it is a rogue official who ignored informed advice on the matter to set in train a huge and regrettable series of events. At least Shane Drumgold has suffered heavy consequences for his actions as a prosecutor in the Lehrman case. But I suppose there is no hope that the official in this case will suffer in any way.

As Lenin once asked: "What Is To Be Done?". I am afraid I have no good answers to that, any more than Lenin did. All I know is that if anybody close to me got into trouble with the law, I would use all my resources to get them from the outset the best possible legal representation. That initial conviction is the dangerous one

When Kathleen Folbigg had her long-standing convictions for the deaths of her four infant children quashed last year, Rhanee Rego was right by her side. The young lawyer had started working on her case while still at uni – and never stopped.

In June 2017, at the age of 24, when most young people are drinking too much, dating the wrong people and otherwise avoiding adulthood, Rhanee Rego, a fourth-year law student at the University of Newcastle, took up a part-time placement with a barrister named Robert Cavanagh. Tall and lanky, with the lugubrious manner of a country undertaker, Cavanagh is well known for campaigning against wrongful convictions. One of the cases he was looking into at the time was that of a convicted child killer named Kathleen Folbigg.

Folbigg, who was also from Newcastle, had been found guilty, in 2003, of murdering three of her young children and the manslaughter of a fourth, and sentenced to 40 years in prison (later reduced to 30). She had become known as the country’s worst female serial killer and was widely reviled. She had been bashed in jail and placed, for her own safety, in solitary confinement. There seemed little doubt about her guilt. Her former husband, Craig, had given evidence against her, as had her foster sister. But Cavanagh believed Folbigg was innocent and set Rego to work reviewing the case.

“I had no idea what I was signing up for,” says Rego, who I met in Newcastle recently. “I knew almost nothing of Folbigg’s case growing up. I was just 11 when she was convicted.”

By the time Rego became involved, Folbigg had already been the subject of a trial, two appeals and a petition for review, initiated by Cavanagh and fellow barristers Isabel Reed and Nicolas Moir, not to mention investigations by journalists and justice advocates. But Rego came to the case with voracious intent. For the next two months, whenever she had time, she would drive from Swansea, just south of Newcastle, where she was living with her grandmother, to Cavanagh’s chambers in the city, and read everything about the case that she could get her hands on – the trial transcripts, witness statements, police and expert reports, formal submissions and Folbigg’s diaries. “The diaries were possibly the hardest part,” Rego says. “Kathleen’s handwriting is terrible.”

Cavanagh believed Folbigg was innocent, but Rego was determined to come to her own conclusion. “I didn’t want to help a woman who’d potentially killed four of her kids, especially pro bono,” she explains. But as she made her way through the material, she became increasingly alarmed. “There was simply no direct evidence anywhere to say Folbigg was guilty,” she says. “The case was entirely circumstantial. It was like clouds. You could see them, their shape and formation, but when you went to grab them, there was nothing there.”

When she mentioned her concerns to friends, they warned her against getting too involved; Folbigg was a figure of hate. But as a novice lawyer, it seemed clear to Rego that Folbigg’s convictions had been a mistake, and that, once the facts were re-examined, she would be released. “Surely the judges wanted to correct this?” she thought. “Surely politicians were worried they had put an innocent woman in prison?”

But that’s not the way it worked out. Folbigg would remain in jail for another six years. Rego, meanwhile, still wet behind the ears, would become her most unlikely advocate, a key player in reversing the worst miscarriage of justice in recent times. Now she’s working to secure what is expected to be one of the biggest compensation payouts in Australian legal history.

Much more below:


If you see this looking at you, be very afraid

image from

A refugee with a history of violence is facing deportation from Australia after losing an appeal over a brutal assault that left a man with a severed earlobe.

Jok Gar, 21, was sentenced last December to two years in prison with a non-parole period of 16 months for the unprovoked attack, in which he and another man savagely beat a man in Melbourne and stole his phone.

A knife was used in the September 6, 2022 attack, with the victim's face slashed and his earlobe partially severed.

Gar and his co-accused Tyler De Silva left the man unconscious and bleeding, with police discovering them in the toilets of Southern Cross train station at 4.30am.

De Silva was handed a lighter sentence of six months due to having an intellectual disability - he has an IQ of 48 - childhood epilepsy and 'severe neglect issues' in his upbringing, the Geelong Advertiser reported.

Gar's appeal cited the 'manifest' differences in the two sentences, but Supreme Court justices Karin Emerton and David Beach said Gar's initial sentence had been 'lenient'.

The judges said the attack was 'both dangerous and callous', and that 'it was not the applicant's only act of random violence against a stranger on the streets of Melbourne'.

They also said there was 'no reason to believe that (Gar's) prospects of rehabilitation are other than very poor'.

A decision on the case had been reserved following a hearing on April 16, but in the meantime Gar was told his refugee visa, which he received in 2009, had been cancelled.

His lawyers said the visa cancellation and the risk of deportation after he has served his time behind bars, were grounds for another appeal.

But the judges disagreed, saying Gar still can apply for the visa cancellation to be reversed.

'We see no good reason to reduce (Gar's sentence) on the ground that the visa cancellation will make the applicant's imprisonment more burdensome,' justices Emerton and Beach wrote.

The judges also cited Gar's history of violent crime.

In January 2023, he pleaded guilty to the aggravated assault of a woman in Geelong West, and four months later in May he was convicted of attacking a stranger 'without provocation' in Melbourne's CBD in the early hours of New Year's Day, 2022.

That assault caused fractures to the victim's skull and facial bones.

Gar went into prison as a medium security prisoner but has been reclassified as maximum security due to his behaviour in jail, which has involved assaults, fights, verbally abuse and spitting on guards.

He also 'stomped on another prisoner' and poured milk and urine under another inmate's cell door.

Gar was born in Egypt to Sudanese parents and arrived in Australia when he was six.


Court upholds coal mine approvals. Defies Global warming argument

The Federal Court has upheld Environment Minister Tanya Plibersek's refusal to assess the climate impacts of coal mine expansions at Narrabri and Mount Pleasant near Muswellbrook.

The Environment Council of Central Queensland took Ms Plibersek and Narrabri Coal Operations (a subsidiary of Whitehaven Coal) and MACH Energy to court for failing to protect the environment from climate harm resulting from new coal and gas projects.

It had argued the minister's refusal to act on the climate risks of the mining expansions was irrational, illogical and unlawful.

The mining companies joined Ms Plibersek in court to defend the case.

The court found on Thursday that, under existing environment laws, the minister was not legally required to assess risk to the environment from the climate harm of the coal mine expansions.

"We are devastated and heartbroken by today's decision," Ashleigh Wyles from the Environment Council of Central Queensland said.

"We're afraid this decision will open the floodgates for the Minister to approve dozens of new goal and gas projects currently on her desk.

"Instead of standing up to fossil fuel companies, our Environment Minister is standing with them in court, defending her refusal to act on the climate harm of new coal and gas mines."

The minister employed the "market substitution" argument or "drug-dealers defence" to defend her decisions.

But the ECoCeQ argued this was dangerous logic because it was out of step with the law, with science and with public expectations.

"Our client is dismayed that under law as it currently stands, it is somehow not the role of the Environment Minister to protect our environment from the climate harm of new coal and gas mines," Environment Justice Australia co-chief executive Elizabeth McKinnon said.

"This judgement today does not change the science. What it does show is that Australia's environment laws are utterly broken.

"Our laws are failing to keep up with the climate crisis. They are failing to protect the iconic places, plants and animals of this country from the devastation of climate change."


Is this the joke of the year>

Much hilarity in Pyongyang, one imagines

Australia has imposed targeted sanctions against entities linked to unlawful weapons trade between North Korea and Russia.

Foreign Affairs Minister Penny Wong announced sanctions against six bodies linked to North Korean arms exports to Russia, calling the ongoing transfer of weapons a “flagrant violation” of United Nations Security Council resolutions.

“Australia condemns, in the strongest possible terms, North Korea’s illegal export and Russia’s procurement and use of North Korean ballistic missiles in support of Russia’s full-scale war against Ukraine,” Senator Wong said in a statement.

“The use of North Korean ballistic missiles by Russia increases the suffering of the Ukrainian people, supports Russia’s illegal and immoral war of aggression and undermines the global non-proliferation regime.”

Senator Wong said Australia would continue to work with Western allies to hold Russia and North Korea to account and address the security threat posed by North Korea.

On Thursday, the US announced sanctions on two Russian individuals and three Russian companies for facilitating arms transfers with Pyongyang.

US Treasury officials said in a statement that both countries had strengthened their military co-operation over the past year, with North Korea providing ballistic missiles and munitions to Russia in return for weapons and economic aid.

Senator Wong said deepening ties between the two countries had serious security implications for South Korea, Europe, and the Indo-Pacific region.

“Together with our partners, we call on North Korea to engage in constructive dialogue and move toward permanent peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula,” she said.




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