The law, in its majestic equality, forbids the rich as well as the poor to sleep under bridges, to beg in the streets, and to steal bread. – ANATOLE FRANCE, The Red Lily
There are many pleasant fictions of the law in constant operation, but there is not one so pleasant or practically humorous as that which supposes every man to be of equal value in its impartial eye, and the benefits of all laws to be equally attainable by all men, without the smallest reference to the furniture of their pockets. – CHARLES DICKENS, Nicholas Nickleby
We in the West are continually told how wonderful our legal system is and how impartial it is. The truth is it’s more like smoke and mirrors. If you’re wealthy, the justice system serves you well – you get access to the top legal eagles, most often you’ve got the moolah to get out on bail if you do face legal action. If you’re of average means, poor, disabled,mentally ill, black or the wrong religion, the legal system as often as not duds you.
What brought this to mind was reading that the attorney-general of New South Wales has refused to reopen the case of three Aboriginal children murdered in Bowraville, a small country town, over 20 years ago.
I lived in Bowraville prior to moving to North Cyprus, which is why I’m aware of the details of this tragedy. In Australia, the disappearance of three children, the Beaumont children, in 1966, from the Glenelg Beach in South Australia, is well-known. They are white. Hardly anyone’s away of the murder of the three children in Bowraville. They’re black.
Bowraville has an infamous history as a deeply racist town. Aboriginal people had to drink in a separate bar from white people. They had to use a side entrance to the cinema to watch movies at the front of the theatre, separate from white people. From time to time, white men would ride their horses into the Mission to rape the women and girls. Women used to teach young girls to stuff sand into their vaginas to avoid rape, and they would go into the bush to try to hide from the white men on the rampage. When Aboriginal people and students organised the Freedom Ride in 1965 – a bus tour through New South Wales protesting discrimination against Aboriginal people in small town Australia – Bowraville was on their list.
When we lived there, the local newsletter trumpeted the fact that Aboriginal people at the Mission – about 1.5 miles from the post office – would finally get their mail delivered instead of having to travel into town to pick up their mail. They had to petition Australia Post to ask for what is accepted practice for white people living in the more remote areas. And it was portrayed as something fantastic when it was bloody terrible that Aboriginal people had to beg to get their mail delivered on the same basis as white people.
The police investigation into the disappearance of the three children – Colleen Walker, Evelyn Greenup and Clinton Speedy-Duroux – was pathetic. Why? Because they were black and therefore not a priority. When 4-year-old Evelyn disappeared, the police asked if she’d “gone walkabout” – a four-year-old little girl! In spite of two trials, involving Jay Hart, a local Bowraville labourer, and a coroner’s inquest no one has been successfully prosecuted for the murders. In the trial for the murder of Evelyn Greenup, the prosecution provided strong evidence including two supposed confessions made by Hart. Despite the evidence and confessions, Hart was acquitted on March 3, 2006. White juries didn’t trust the evidence of Aboriginal people. The families have been trying to get a re-trial approved due to new evidence but they have now been turned down. Disgusting.
Just as the white man’s law failed to serve the three Bowraville children, so it failed a rape victim in the UK. This past week we’ve seen the suicide of a woman in Great Britain who gave evidence in a rape trial against the man accused of raping and molesting her, only to be pilloried in the witness box by the defence lawyer, to the degree that she said she felt she’d been raped again. And let’s not forget too the hotel worker in New York who pursued rape charges against the wealthy, powerful Dominique Strauss-Kahn, who promptly hired top lawyers to dig up dirt on her to try to avoid legal action. In the event, Strauss-Kahn had to settle damages out of court, £950,000 which speaks volumes about his admission that he had a “moral failure”, a moral failure which seems to have dogged him in various sexual encounters which were known about, condoned and shrugged off. What woman is going to go to court for rape when the defendant is a wealthy, powerful man, where rape is the only crime where the complainant is treated as the guilty one.
And we still await the prosecution of bankster head honchos whose criminal actions lead to the global financial crisis. Hardly any heads have rolled and if they have, the headless chook escaping into the wild blue yonder as often as not scarpers with a multi-million bonus. We also see, despite the financial chaos engendered by the criminal actions of huge financial institutions, top dogs STILL getting bonuses! On the other hand, people in the UK, Greece, Cyprus, Spain, Italy and so on are supposed to endure financial hardship and huge cuts to their living standards to pay for the crimes of the banksters!
And pardon me if I happen to mention the US justice system where election to office in the legal system all too often relies upon how many millions you can afford to get elected, what political party you belong to and which corporate rip-off merchants you’ve had backing you to look after their interests. In this respect, I refer to the decision by the conservative-dominated US Supreme Court to aware personhood status to corporations. What a disgrace to the so-called legal system!
You often see the comment that the law must be obeyed. Well, pardon me, but not if a law is blatantly unjust and discriminates for the wealthy against the 99% of us who are not well served by the legal system. If a law is unjust, it deserves disobeying. If laws don’t serve the people, then we need to take action to change those laws – such as ensuring justice for minorities: those whose skin isn’t white; the poor; the unemployed; the disabled; the mentally ill; non-Christians, and so on. The times are fast changing at present, the old is being challenged, and it does no harm at all to stand up for true justice, not white, rich man’s law.