05 March 2011

Military Justice

Military justice is to justice as military music is to music?

I was reminded of that old saw yesterday on reading the NY Times report of the complaint that Pfc. Bradley Manning (the Army intelligence analyst accused of leaking US government files to WikiLeaks) was stripped and left naked in his cell for seven hours on Wednesday.

The Times notes that the conditions of Private Manning’s confinement in the Marine brig in Quantico have drawn criticism over several months.

Manning's lawyer is reported as indicating that the soldier's clothing was returned to him on Thursday morning after he was required to stand naked outside his cell during an inspection.
This type of degrading treatment is inexcusable and without justification. It is an embarrassment to our military justice system and should not be tolerated. Pfc. Manning has been told that the same thing will happen to him again tonight. No other detainee at the brig is forced to endure this type of isolation and humiliation.
The Times goes on to report that a Marine spokesman said -
a brig duty supervisor had ordered Private Manning’s clothing taken from him. He said that the step was "not punitive" and that it was in accordance with brig rules, but he said that he was not allowed to say more.

"It would be inappropriate for me to explain it", Lieutenant Villiard said. "I can confirm that it did happen, but I can't explain it to you without violating the detainee's privacy."
We might question the appropriate of brig rules that allow prisoners to be kept 'in the buff' ... and go on to ask whether there are similar rules in Australian military law and in Australian public/private incarceration institutions. Presumably there are ... and privacy would be one response if information was sought regarding the treatment of individuals. How many Australians in custody are left without their y-fronts for a day or so ... and if the rationale is prevention of self-harm, should we consider medication rather than removal of what might be used for a noose?

The Times notes that Manning is being held as a maximum security detainee "under a special set of restrictions intended to prevent self-injury, even though supporters say there is no evidence that he is suicidal".
During an appearance on MSNBC earlier on Thursday, Geoffrey Morrell, the Pentagon press secretary, attributed the general conditions of Private Manning’s confinement to "the seriousness of the charges he’s facing, the potential length of sentence, the national security implications" and to protect him from potential harm.
The effectiveness of that protection is uncertain -
one of Private Manning’s friends, David House, said in a conference call with reporters that he had visited the soldier the previous weekend and that his mental condition was severely deteriorating as a result of being confined to his cell 23 hours a day, with one hour to exercise in an empty room, and largely isolated from human contact. ... House said that Private Manning did not seem suicidal and contended that he was being pressured to cooperate.
On Wednesday the US Army announced 22 additional charges against Manning, including "aiding the enemy", although at the time there was no indication as to the identity of that "enemy” (subsequently glossed as any hostile forces that could benefit from learning classified military tactics and procedures).

Twittering classes

From Evgeny Morozov's Bookforum post about the 'twitter revolution' in the Middle East -
Today, the role of the telegraph in the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution—just like the role of the tape recorder in the 1979 Iranian revolution and of the fax machine in the 1989 revolutions — is of interest to a handful of academics and virtually no one else. The fetishism of technology is at its strongest immediately after a revolution but tends to subside shortly afterward. In his 1993 best seller The Magic Lantern, Timothy Garton Ash, one of the most acute observers of the 1989 revolutions, proclaimed that "in Europe at the end of the twentieth century all revolutions are telerevolutions" — but in retrospect, the role of television in those events seems like a very minor point.

Will history consign Twitter and Facebook to much the same fate twenty years down the road? In all likelihood, yes. The current fascination with technology-driven accounts of political change in the Middle East is likely to subside, for a number of reasons. First of all, while the recent round of uprisings may seem spontaneous to Western observers — and therefore as magically disruptive as a rush-hour flash mob in San Francisco — the actual history of popular regime change tends to diminish the central role commonly ascribed to technology. By emphasizing the liberating role of the tools and downplaying the role of human agency, such accounts make Americans feel proud of their own contribution to events in the Middle East. After all, the argument goes, such a spontaneous uprising wouldn't have succeeded before Facebook was around — so Silicon Valley deserves a lion's share of the credit. If, of course, the uprising was not spontaneous and its leaders chose Facebook simply because that's where everybody is, it's a far less glamorous story.

Second, social media — by the very virtue of being "social" — lends itself to glib, pundit-style overestimations of its own importance. In 1989, the fax-machine industry didn't employ an army of lobbyists—and fax users didn't feel the same level of attachment to these clunky machines as today's Facebook users feel toward their all-powerful social network. Perhaps the outsize revolutionary claims for social media now circulating throughout the West are only a manifestation of Western guilt for wasting so much time on social media: After all, if it helps to spread democracy in the Middle East, it can't be all that bad to while away the hours "poking" your friends and playing FarmVille. But the recent history of technology strongly suggests that today's vogue for Facebook and Twitter will fade as online audiences migrate to new services. Already, tech enthusiasts are blushing at the memory of the serious academic conferences once devoted to the MySpace revolution.

04 March 2011

National DVO scheme

The Standing Committee of Attorneys-General has agreed to implement a national scheme for domestic and family violence orders that will improve protection for victims of domestic violence.

The proposed scheme, to be applied Australia-wide, will allow a domestic or family violence order (DVO) issued by a court in one jurisdiction to be automatically recognised in other jurisdictions.

The Australian Attorney General commented that -
Under current arrangements, if a protected person wants to have their DVO recognised in another jurisdiction they have to 'register' the order with a court in that jurisdiction - putting the onus entirely on the victim.

Many people fleeing domestic violence may not be aware of the requirement to register the order if moving interstate.

In addition, some protected people are too fearful for their safety to approach a court.

Under the national scheme, victims of domestic violence will be able to travel or move to another State and Territory and be automatically protected by their DVO.

Allowing court issued domestic and family violence orders to be valid and enforceable across State and Territory borders is an important improvement in the protection of victims of domestic violence.
The national DVO scheme is a key commitment in the National Plan to Reduce Violence against Women and their children 2010-2022. The expectation is that the States and Territories will work together to draft legislation to give effect to
this agreement.

03 March 2011

Industrial Property Law reforms

In announcing proposals for industrial property law reform, which I'll be discussing in a later post, the Australian Innovation Minister has relied on the standard rhetoric.
Protecting the good ideas of Australian businesses at home and abroad is key to the Gillard Labor Government’s push to reform intellectual property laws. ... a successful and sustainable economy needs a strong intellectual property (IP) system to protect the ideas of the future.

A robust IP system is essential to help generate jobs for Australians in the industries of the future.

Australia has a rich history of innovation, from the ultra battery to the polymer bank note and the zero emissions house. It is critical that Australia reaps the benefits of future great ideas. That’s why these reforms are so important. ...

These reforms will also make it easier for our overseas partners to continue to bring new technology to Australia.
The main elements of the proposed reforms are described as -
• raising patent standards to align with major overseas trading partners;
• reducing the time to resolve patent and trade mark applications;
• strengthening anti-counterfeiting measures; and
• making sure the patent system doesn't restrict research.
IP Australia has sought public comments on a draft Intellectual Property Laws Amendment (Raising the Bar) Bill 2011 [PDF], with feedback due early April

28 February 2011

Young crims

The Australian Institute of Criminology has released two items on youth crime.

'Antisocial behaviour: An examination of individual, family, and neighbourhood factors' (Trends & Issues in Crime and Criminal Justice No 410, 2011) [PDF] is claimed as "the first of its kind in Australia to simultaneously examine individual, family and neighbourhood predictors of adolescent antisocial behaviour".

The study drew on Australian Bureau of Statistics census data and the Mater-University of Queensland Study of Pregnancy (MUSP), a prospective longitudinal study of mothers and their children in Brisbane, Australia, with data from birth through to adolescence (age 14 years).

Authors Tara McGee, Rebecca Wickes, Jonathan Corcoran, William Bor & Jake Najman found that little variation in antisocial behaviour was attributable to the statistical local area (SLA). Examination of SLA-level variables (neighbourhood disadvantage, immigration concentration and residential mobility), individual variables and familial variables showed that the strongest predictors of adolescent antisocial behaviour are those which measure disruptions in parenting processes, poor school performance and early childhood aggression.

The findings suggest that programs aimed at enhancing parenting practices (including improving communication, supervision and monitoring of children) are important in reducing adolescent antisocial behaviour.

'What makes juvenile offenders different from adult offenders?' (Trends & Issues in Crime and Criminal Justice No 409, 2011) [PDF] by Kelly Richards notes that "responding to juvenile offending is a unique policy and practice challenge. While a substantial proportion of crime is perpetuated by juveniles, most juveniles will 'grow out' of offending and adopt law-abiding lifestyles as they mature.

The eight page paper outlines biological, psychological and social factors that make juvenile offenders different from adult offenders and that necessitate unique responses to juvenile crime.
It is argued that a range of factors, including juveniles’ lack of maturity, propensity to take risks and susceptibility to peer influence, as well as intellectual disability, mental illness and victimisation, increase juveniles’ risks of contact with the criminal justice system. These factors, combined with juveniles’ unique capacity to be rehabilitated, can require intensive and often expensive interventions by the juvenile justice system. Although juvenile offenders are highly diverse, and this diversity should be considered in any response to juvenile crime, a number of key strategies exist in Australia to respond effectively to juvenile crime.

27 February 2011


In thinking about adoption as a point of reference for an article on privacy and the Senate Donor Conception report I have been rereading the stats on practice in Australia. What's striking for a non-specialist - or perhaps just for a naive reader - is how few adoptions there are in Australia.

Last decade I noted that the Adoptions Australia 2002-03 report from the Australian Institute of Health & Welfare indicated that there were 472 adoptions of children in Australia during 2002-03. Around 3,740 requests for information were made, of which 73% were by adopted children, 17% by birth parents and 2% by a child of an adopted person. Some 137 contact and identifying information vetoes were lodged during the year, with 9,930 vetoes in place (of which 53% were by an adopted person and 38% by the birth mother).

The latest statistics, in the Adoptions Australia 2009-10 report, suggests that there were a mere 412 adoptions in Australia during the period. (The Senate Donor Conception report suggests that there may have been around 600 births involving donor conception in the same year.)

In the same year there were 2,903 information applications (85% for identifying information and 15% for non-identifying information), of which 72% were made by the adopted person, 14% were made by the birth parents and 9% by other birth relatives. 82% of adopted persons seeking identifying information were aged 35 years and over.

In 2009–10, intercountry adoptions represented 54% of all adoptions, compared with 10% of adoptions in 1984–85. The Philippines (22%) has now overtaken both China (14%) and South Korea (14%) as the most common country of origin. Outside Asia, Ethiopia was the most common country of origin, accounting for 15% of intercountry adoptions. 15% of adoptions were local (Australian children) and a further 31% were 'known' child adoptions (adoptions of Australian children who have a pre-existing relationship with the adoptive parent/s, such as step-parents, other relatives, or carers).

65% of adopted children were aged under 5 years. 57% of adoptive parents of children in local and intercountry adoptions were aged 40 years and over. 58% had no other children.