Tony Mokbel’s claim overnight that he would get a fairer trial in Indonesia than Australia should be taken with a grain – no a bag – of salt. Mokbel faces serious criminal charges in Victoria, and he’s had his fair share of publicity over the past few months, but much of it has been self induced.

If Mokbel had not skipped bail and fled to Greece, if he had not been caught in Greece wearing that ridiculous wig, and if his lawyers had not so assiduously courted the media over his extradition case, then the publicity of which Mokbel now complains would not have become so problematic for him.

But even if Mokbel’s claims of being unable to get a fair trial in Victoria have any veracity to them, they can be cured by extending the current suppression order on the Channel 9 series Underbelly.

There would be little doubt in a court’s mind that the series’ portrayal of Mokbel could influence would-be members of a jury in any case involving him. So Victorians might not get to see Underbelly on Channel 9 for some years. Still, who cares? Channel 9’s profits are far less important than the right to a fair trial.

In contrast to the specious arguments of Mokbel and his lawyers about the unlikelihood of getting a fair trial in Victoria, there is definitely more substance in a similar argument that will no doubt be advanced by former Bundaberg hospital doctor Jayant Patel. Dr Patel is facing extradition from the US to Queensland to face charges of manslaughter, grievous bodily harm and fraud over operations he performed at Bundaberg Base Hospital.

Dr Patel is frequently referred to as Dr Death in the Queensland and national media. He has been the subject of literally hundreds of media articles, investigations and reports. When Patel was arrested a few weeks ago, former patients, politicians and the media collectively leapt for joy. It was as though Dr Patel had already been adjudged guilty by one and all.

Unlike Tony Mokbel, Dr Patel has a serious chance of getting a stay of the case against him. He will have a strong argument for a stay or adjournment of any criminal trials for at least a few years. He might even get a permanent stay or adjournment of proceedings against him. As the High Court said in 1992:

…one cannot exclude, as a matter of law, the possibility that an “extreme” or “singular” case might arise in which the effect of a sustained media campaign of vilification and prejudgment is such that, notwithstanding lapse of time and careful and thorough directions of a trial judge, any conviction would be unsafe and unsatisfactory by reason of a significant and unacceptable likelihood that it would be vitiated by impermissible prejudice and prejudgment. In such a case, a permanent stay may be granted.

Dr Patel might well be such an extreme case; Tony Mokbel is not.

Peter Fray

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