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Once upon a time, if you did the crime you did the time. If not, you walked. Nowadays, it can be somewhat more complicated. The practice of criminal law in Australia is increasingly embracing the time-honoured US model of down-and-dirty, pragmatic plea-bargaining deals between prosecution and defence, aimed at achieving a compromise acceptable to both parties. And in recent years Australian courts have tacitly encouraged that process by routinely offering discounted penalties to those who arrive at an early decision to plead guilty on mutually-agreed facts.
Robot judges in Estonia? American AI sentencing criminals to prison? Computers predicting crimes before they even happen? One may be forgiven for thinking such concepts come straight from a science fiction novel, or the rabid rantings of an online conspiracy theorist. The truth is they are all part of today’s reality. And it looks like it’s only a matter of time before concepts like predictive policing and artificial intelligence will be an everyday feature of justice systems worldwide. 
This week Sky News aired the explosive documentary “Lawyer X: The Untold Story”, recounting the sorry tale of the now-notorious double-dealings of former Melbourne Barrister, Nicola Gobbo.
I was very saddened to hear this week of the passing of Rick Carter, the great Australian actor and comedian, with whom I worked on Gettin’ Square, a film I wrote and co-produced in 2003. A veteran of scores of classic Aussie films, including Muriel's Wedding, Babe, Rabbit Proof Fence, The Great Gatsby and Mad Max: Fury Road, and a long list of successful television series, Rick was an icon of the Australian entertainment industry over four decades of work.
This week the Queensland opposition launched a robust attack on a centuries-old criminal law defence. The 'mistake of fact’ defence was encoded into Queensland law in 1899 when our Criminal Code was first enacted, adopting a common-law notion dating back at least as far as pre-Norman England, that criminal liability requires some sort of actual subjective culpability, whether based on moral guilt or negligence. Section 24 of our Code provides that a person who does something under an honest and reasonable, but mistaken, belief as to a particular fact, they are not criminally responsible to any greater extent than if that belief was correct.
A common submission by Queensland defence lawyers representing drug-driving offenders goes something like this: “My client had not in fact smoked cannabis for several days prior to driving, but hangover traces of the drug must have remained in his system, unbeknownst to him."
Lawyers have this thing they sometimes like to say. “Hard cases make bad law.” It’s true. About thirty years ago I got the job to represent a nice, sweet, softly-spoken lady who stabbed her husband 87 times with a serrated kitchen knife. Not surprisingly he ended up dead as a doornail.
Between January 2013 and December 2017, the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse heard evidence revealing that for generations many of our educational and other institutions presided over the systemic abuse of countless defenceless children. Tragically, most of those children, racked with shame, guilt and self-doubt, kept that abuse hidden from sight in deep, dark and destructive secrecy for decades. Some never whispered a word.
Migration continues to feature as a red hot topic for debate on the Australian political landscape, particularly in the context of the looming Federal election.
They say confession is good for the soul. That may be so, but sometimes it seems there's a whole lot of things it's not nearly so good for. Just ask Liam Neeson.
There is a Japanese proverb that goes along the lines of “We’re fools whether we dance or not, so we might as well dance” and as history has shown us we love to dance on April Fool’s Day.
A generation ago, corporal punishment at school was commonplace. Canings and strappings that would now turn school mums like me apoplectic were once considered a routine and acceptable means of enforcing discipline and taming the unruly child.

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