The Federal Magistrates Court’s decision to place a control order on Jack Thomas was the most hotly debated topic last week – among everybody, it seems, except our leading lawyers.

On one side of the debate the high-powered QCs were lining up to defend Jack Thomas’s civil rights – Robert Richter QC, Rob Stary, Lex Lasry QC, Brian Walters SC. Either prominent civil liberties advocates or associated with Thomas’s legal team, this group ran a highly successful media campaign to attack the basis of control orders and their application in the Thomas case.

But on the other side there was hardly anybody popping their head up to defend the Government’s right to act to defend its citizens. When criminal barrister and former head of the National Crime Authority Peter Faris QC wrote a short article in Crikey doing just that he was inundated by requests for comments from media outlets scratching around to find a prominent voice to balance their coverage.

Faris followed up his Crikey piece with several radio interviews, TV appearances on The 7.30 Report and Lateline as well as lengthy opinion pieces in The Australian and The Age.

In all Faris spent more than two full days last week commenting and being interviewed on the topic.

So where were all the other lawyers putting forward the proposition that individual rights have to be weighed against the Government’s duty to protect its citizens?

Here was a major public debate on one of the abiding issues of our time, so why was there so little leadership from the legal fraternity in thrashing out the issue?

Either there was an astonishing unanimity of opposition to control orders within the legal fraternity. Or, among the lawyers who agreed with Faris and Attorney-General Philip Ruddock, there were was not one willing to take a stance with which their colleagues may have disagreed for fear of damaging themselves professionally.

Whatever the explanation this sort of non-debate from the legal profession is a major disappointment.

Peter Fray

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