Martin
Hirst in Brisbane writes:

The Queensland police
yesterday dropped a charge of “misleading” against film-maker Anne Delaney
after defence lawyers were able to argue successfully that ‘friend’ has a broad
meaning in common usage.

Under
cross-examination prison officials had admitted that they even allow strangers
into Queensland
jails, without checking their bona fides.

It has
emerged that Corrective Services and police were waiting for Delaney when she
went to visit prisoner Louise McPhee in April this year. McPhee has been convicted of
killing one of her children, but Delaney believes there is a potential
miscarriage of justice in the case.

As an
experienced journalist, Delaney knew that gaining access to prisoners would not
be easy and she had contacted the Corrective Services media unit to inquire
about the process. This alerted them to her visit and police were ready to
arrest her after she spent half an hour with McPhee.

Delaney is
still facing a charge of illegally interviewing Delaney, a breach of Section
100 of the Queensland Corrective Services Act. While Delaney had no camera,
recording equipment, or even a notebook with her during the brief visit, it
turns out that the interview was recorded by Corrective Services and they have
agreed to hand over a tape to Delaney’s legal team.

Barrister
Peter Applegarth made submissions to magistrate Errol Wessling about a possible
constitutional challenge to Section 100 on the grounds an interview with a
prisoner falls under the implied protection of political free speech as defined
in several recent High Court cases.

Friends of
Delaney told Crikey that Wessling appeared interested in hearing the
constitutional matters and that the police prosecutors were totally unprepared
for this, despite being on notice. All state and territory Attorneys General
have to be informed when a constitutional matter is to be argued before the
courts. At one point in yesterday’s proceedings the magistrate asked the
prosecutors what mischief they were alleging Delaney had done by talking to
McPhee.

The case
has been adjourned to the 24th of November to allow the prosecution
time to brief a lawyer on the constitutional issues.

Griffith University criminologist, Dr Janet Ransley,
was one of the expert witnesses called by the defence team. She says that there
are no formal institutions in Australia,
such as the Criminal Cases Review Commission in the UK, to examine potential
miscarriages of justice. Therefore, she says, pressure from the media is
important in forcing governments to re-open cases. She says that a miscarriage
of justice is less likely to be exposed if journalists are not allowed access
to prisoners. A “blanket ban” on media access is “unnecessarily restrictive,”
Ransley says.

Meanwhile,
the prisoner support group, Sisters Inside, say that Louise McPhee was subject
to a punishment regime in the prison after Delaney’s visit.