By Martin Hirst in Brisbane
Despite the fact that she didn’t record the interview or even take notes, freelance journalist and film-maker Anne Delaney has been found guilty of conducting an illegal interview with a Queensland prisoner.
The Brisbane magistrates’ court found she had breached the archaic Section 100 of the Queensland Corrective Services Act that forbids prisoners from giving interviews without the express permission of the jail superintendent, and yesterday she was sentenced to a 12-month good behaviour bond with no conviction.
As previously reported in Crikey, Delaney’s legal team was challenging the law and arguing that it was breach of the implied Constitutional right to free speech. It also emerged during the trial that the Queensland Corrective Services department had set up Delaney. Two police detectives were waiting for her in the jail and she was arrested without warning after being allowed to spend about half an hour with the prisoner.
In April this year, Delaney was researching a story about the case of prisoner Louise MacPhee, who had been convicted of killing one of her children. Delaney had read about the case, and believed MacPhee might have been the victim of a miscarriage of justice.
Prior to visiting MacPhee, Delaney had enquired about the protocols for filming in the jail and this appears to have alerted Corrective Services about her visit. At no stage was Delaney told that visiting MacPhee might breach the Act and she was not warned that her actions could constitute an offence. Friends of Delaney who observed the case closely believe she was the victim in a clear case of entrapment by Corrective Services.
Speaking to Crikey at the conclusion of the sentencing hearing on Thursday afternoon, an obviously disappointed Delaney said she was personally “gutted” by the decision and that her faith in the Queensland legal system was shattered.
Delaney says the law against interviewing prisoners is preventing the public from knowing what is going on inside Queensland’s notoriously closed and punitive prison system.
Delaney is considering her options and is receiving strong encouragement from her friends and supporters to mount an appeal and a further challenge to the constitutionality of the law.
Delaney’s friends told Crikey that the magistrate appeared not to properly understand the constitutional issues and that the prosecution case was poorly handled.
MEAA Federal Secretary Chris Warren says that while the journalists’ union is delighted that the sentence is light in the Delaney case, it is a “terrible decision, based on a terrible law.” Warren says the MEAA is calling on the Queensland Government to repeal Section 100 of the Corrective Services Act to bring the state into line with the rest of the country. “This law is unique to Queensland and Anne’s defence raised some serious constitutional issues that the magistrate appears to have ignored,” Warren told Crikey. The MEAA believes the ban on talking to Queensland prisoners is a serious block to political debate. Warren says the union will consider backing a High Court challenge and continuing its campaign against the gag law.