Lex Wotton Gag 'breaches rights': High Court Appeal

1. Audio file Palm Islandler Lex Wotton appeals against media ban ABC News Report mp3 file
2. Audio file The right of prisoners to speak out ABC 'The Law Report' mp3 file

Milanda Rout The Australian August 3rd 2011

Lawers for Aboriginal activist Lex Wotton have told the High Court that parole conditions prohibiting him from talking to the media and attending community meetings breaches his freedom to participate in political discussion.

Ron Merkel QC yesterday said the restrictions placed on his client --after being jailed for rioting in Palm Island over the death of Cameron Doomadgee -- were "clearly directed" at stopping him from being involved in political debate surrounding the treatment of Aborigines in the community.

Mr Wotton was sentenced to six years' jail in 2008, having been found to be a major player in the 2004 riots, including having poured petrol on a police station while police officers were inside.

He was released on parole in July last year and was banned from public meetings on Palm Island without the permission of corrective services, as well as having any interaction with the media.

In submissions tendered to the High Court on behalf of Mr Wotton, Mr Merkel argued that the ban on talking to the media was aimed at prohibiting his client's ability to communicate on issues of public interest, especially to the indigenous community.

Mr Merkel also told the full bench of the High Court yesterday that they had not come across any other case which had such strict conditions placed on someone on parole.

"All Australian jurisdictions make provision for the maintenance of the security and good order of prisons," the submission read.

"No other jurisdiction, however, makes it a criminal offence for a person to interview or obtain a statement from the prisoner, whether in prison or on parole."

High Court judge William Gummow questioned the argument put by Mr Merkel that the role of the media was a crucial part of political communication in the Australian community.

Justice Gummow said the age of the "old media" was gone and there were now irresponsible sections of the press.

Lawyers acting for the Queensland government told the High Court that there had been "no concerted effort" to stop Mr Wotton from speaking.

The hearing continues today.

Background: Trial of Lex Wotton Wikipedia

Lex Wotton - High Cout Appeal

Tuesday, 2 August 2011 and Wednesday, 3 August 2011
Wotton v. State of Queensland & Anor (S314/2010)

Writ of Summons: Issued 22 December 2010
Date of Referral of Special Case to the Full Court: 16 May 2011

The plaintiff, Lex Wotton, is an Australian citizen and Aboriginal person who was born on Palm Island in the State of Queensland and has resided on Palm Island for most of his life. He has been and wishes to continue to be an active participant in the public life of Palm Island and a leader in the Palm Island Aboriginal community. He also wishes to participate in public discussion of political and social problems affecting Aboriginal persons in Australia and problems in the prison system in Queensland that he experienced as a result of his incarceration.

On or about 26 November 2004 a riot occurred on Palm Island following the death of an Aboriginal man, Mulrunji Doomadagee. In November 2008, following a trial by jury, Mr Wotton was sentenced to six years imprisonment for his part in this riot.

Mr Wotton was released on parole on 19 July 2010. His parole order imposed a number of conditions on him including a number of special conditions imposed pursuant to s 200(2) of the Corrective Services Act 2006 (Qld). These special conditions included conditions that he: not attend public meetings on Palm Island without the prior approval of the corrective services officer (condition (t)); be prohibited from speaking to and having any interaction whatsoever with the media (condition (u)); and, receive no direct or indirect payment or benefit to him, or through any members of his family, through any agent, through any spokesperson or through any person or entity negotiating or dealing on his behalf with the media (condition (v)). His parole order will expire on 18 July 2014.

The Special Case states the following questions for consideration by the Full Court:

• Is s 132 of the Corrective Services Act 2006 (Qld) invalid because it impermissibly burdens the freedom of communication of government and political matters, contrary to the Commonwealth Constitution?

• Are conditions (t), (u) and (v) of the Plaintiff's Parole Order invalid because they impermissibly burden the freedom of communication of government and political matters, contrary to the Commonwealth Constitution?

• Is s 200(2) of the Corrective Services Act 2006 (Qld) invalid to the extent it authorizes the imposition of the conditions (t), (u) and (v) of the Plaintiff's Parole Order?

• Who should pay the costs of the special case?

Notice of a Constitutional Matter has been given as required by s 78B of the Judiciary Act 1903 (Cth). The Attorneys-General for Victoria, and New South Wales have indicated that they will be intervening in this matter pursuant to s 78A of the Judiciary Act.