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Justice is served for Year 12

Ms Isbel’s Year 12 Legal Studies students have been exploring the complexities of bail. As they’ve discovered, there are lots of grey areas to consider when it comes to an application.

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As Ms Isbel explained to her students, to do well in the HSC in Legal Studies, they must carefully evaluate the question to create an argument that convinces the examiner of their viewpoint. Knowledge matters. But sentences and form matter too. Crafting information into a concise, coherent and persuasive critical response is vital – particularly if you want your essay to be compelling.

With this thought top of mind – and with lots of tips, techniques and strategies as to how to successfully phrase their arguments or incorporate details on legislation, case studies and media reports when approaching a variety of questions around this topic (as well as useful checklists of legal terminology displayed prominently on the classroom wall) – Year 12 sat down with Ms Isbel to explore the various checks and balances that are currently in place when it comes to bail. They quickly realised that balancing the rights of victims, offenders and society is not always that clear cut.

Bail is a core part of the criminal justice system and allows a person to be released from custody pending the outcome of a case against them with certain conditions. Because the decision to refuse bail can impact on a person’s liberty before they are convicted of an offence, it involves a careful assessment of the potential risks posed to the community, as well as other factors and conditions.

The presumption of innocence is at the core of all criminal legal matters in Australia. It’s important because the role of the justice system is not to find and imprison as many people as possible, but to protect the innocent and keep the public safe. However, the presumption of innocence has its challenges for the justice system. People who are guilty but who have not yet been convicted could go into hiding. People who have committed dangerous crimes could endanger more people while awaiting trial.

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This is where bail comes into play. Judges can release those who have been charged with specific crimes on the understanding that they will appear for further court proceedings. Bail allows the justice system to protect each person's right to be presumed innocent until guilt is proven, while still protecting the interest of the public safety. But does the law always get it right?

As they embark upon their final year of Legal Studies, the students are now familiar with a wide range of high profile, contemporary and controversial cases, so it has made for some interesting classroom discussions about the complexities of the law. It’s also prompted the girls to take a keen interest in current media coverage – Mohammed Skaf’s latest parole bid being a case in point – and to apply their learning, to debate, to exchange ideas and to share their thoughts on how the system could be improved.

In their discussions on bail, the students touched upon the case of the Sydney siege gunman, Man Haron Monis, who was granted bail before the Lindt café siege, even though he was facing 43 counts of sexual and aggravated assault and being an accessory to murder. It made them reflect on the tensions that exist in balancing the rights of suspected criminals and the rights of society.

Ms Isbel added to the discussion by pointing out that it’s not always practical to hold people in custody, particularly in areas where there is a backlog of cases awaiting court, which can result in lengthy periods in jail.

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Having watched numerous videos of police interviewing potential suspects, the students also referenced the Keli Lane case, which captured the attention of the Australian public when questions emerged regarding the disappearance of her baby Tegan in 2005. Lane was subsequently found guilty of murder by a Jury in 2010. It was an opportunity for them to consider the right to silence – and the right to request independent legal advice before responding to police questions because any answers will be taken down and can be used in evidence.

In a democratic society, the police have an obligation to exercise their power lawfully. Ms Isbel reminded the students of the Gary Jubelin case, who was found guilty of illegally recording conversations with a person of interest in the William Tyrrell case. As Ms Isbel pointed out, this is a great example of the checks and balances that are in place to hold the police accountable.

The students also discussed the use of police strip searches of young people in NSW, particularly at music festivals. And they talked about the impact on young people when police target anti-social behaviour as part of their stance on being seen to be tough on youth crime in high traffic areas like Manly.

In Charles Dickens’ novel Oliver Twist, Mr Bumble was the first to say, “The law is an ass.” As our Year 12 students are discovering, the law is complex and convoluted. But as a class, they are already confidently identifying legal issues, connecting the dots between different legal principles, outlining possible outcomes and counterarguments, and making recommendations as to how the law could be improved. And it’s only Week 4!