When the judge in the trial of Bruce Lehrmann for the alleged rape of Brittany Higgins dismissed the jury and ordered a retrial, it was to uphold a cardinal principle of justice – those standing in judgement of others must be unimpeachable in their neutrality, free from bias and exhibiting no prejudice towards those they are required to judge.
Justice Lucy McCallum terminated the trial after a juror was found to possess several academic articles on sexual assault in contravention of the judge’s repeated instructions that jurors must rely solely on admissible evidence presented and tested in a courtroom.
The impact of the judge’s decision is grave. A new trial puts the complainant and defendant through fresh strain and potential trauma, it clutters the system causing knock-on delays, and it costs taxpayers substantially. But so sacred is the concept of impartiality, so essential it is to maintain confidence in the administration of justice that some mere googling with no evidence of impact on any juror, torpedoed the entire process.
Contrast this with the investigation conducted by a United Nations Human Rights Council into the root causes of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The Commission of Inquiry was called followed Hamas’s escalation with Israel in May last year. The three commissioners selected to investigate and pass judgement were Navi Pillay of South Africa, Miloon Kothari of India, and our very own, Chris Sidoti.
There is of course the preliminary question, which is what gives any three individuals who have never defended their countries, the right to stand in judgement of a democracy defending its people against designated terror groups that exist solely to kill as many of those people as possible?
If you do deem such an inquiry appropriate, then consider the fitness of these three individuals to deliver just and impartial findings.
Pillay’s previous public positions on Israel include denouncing it as a supposedly “apartheid state”, signings petition for Israel to be sanctioned, and calling on it to end its “oppression” of the Palestinians. Kothari went further, questioning whether Israel should even be a member of the United Nations. Israel was admitted as a full member of the United Nations in 1949. Kothari now questions whether the country he is investigating should be a country at all.
Kothari then came to resemble an even more decrepit version of Kanye West in claiming that the Jewish lobby controls social media. At least West had the creativity to accuse Jews of coercing his ex-wife into fornicating in front of a fireplace. Chris Sidoti sits on the advisory council of the “Australian Centre for International Justice (ACIJ),” an activist group that accuses Israel of apartheid, settler-colonialism and other first semester Arts degree insights.
By any standard of justice, the commissioners should have resigned themselves from serving or been swiftly removed once their prior positions on Israel became known. Certainly, when a royal commission or any similar proceedings are conducted in Australia, we expect more than a panel stacked with individuals whose performances are “more rehearsed than kabuki actors,” to borrow a line from Bob Carr. Under Australian law, actual bias occurs when a decision-maker is “so committed to a particular outcome that he or she will not alter that outcome, regardless of what evidence or arguments are presented.” Apprehended bias occurs when “the judge might not bring an impartial and unprejudiced mind to the resolution of the question.” The UN Human Rights Council itself requires decision-makers to uphold the “highest standards” of “impartiality.” Readers can determine for themselves whether those called upon to pass judgement in this case meet such standards.
But this is the United Nations, hence, rather than canning the inquiry or replacing the commissioners, the commission proceeded unperturbed, with an open-ended mandate, a permanent staff of 18 and a budget of $4 million.
The commission serves a very precise function. The Australian Government dismissed the report as “one-sided” and “doing little to advance the cause of peace.” Still, you can count on megalomaniacal former foreign ministers and Labor’s Corbynite elements using it as fodder to demand still more pro-Palestinian policies no matter how repellent or irrelevant to Australians. The report will grease more campaigns by Amnesty International, that husk that just betrayed the heroic defenders of Ukraine as war criminals. It will be cited in more student papers calling for “death to Israel”, as recently occurred in Adelaide, and they will ignite more online chatter to globalise the message of an irredeemably evil Israel.
This latest “commission of inquiry”, was little reported and barely noticed. There is overwhelming indifference to the United Nation’s pronouncements, blighted as they frequently are by hypocrisy, ineptitude and corruption. Yet it should be noticed. It should spawn outrage. For its perversion of justice and due process, its contribution to racism and discord, and its presumption that Australians can’t spot a scam when they see it.