Like what you've read?

On Line Opinion is the only Australian site where you get all sides of the story. We don't
charge, but we need your support. Here�s how you can help.

  • Advertise

    We have a monthly audience of 70,000 and advertising packages from $200 a month.

  • Volunteer

    We always need commissioning editors and sub-editors.

  • Contribute

    Got something to say? Submit an essay.

 The National Forum   Donate   Your Account   On Line Opinion   Forum   Blogs   Polling   About   
On Line Opinion logo ON LINE OPINION - Australia's e-journal of social and political debate


On Line Opinion is a not-for-profit publication and relies on the generosity of its sponsors, editors and contributors. If you would like to help, contact us.


RSS 2.0

Watson and double jeopardy: where do we stand

By Greg Barns - posted Friday, 12 November 2010

Gabe Watson is an American citizen who today was released from a Queensland prison, having served an 18-month sentence for the manslaughter of his wife on a diving trip in 2003.

Mr Watson has "done his time", as we say. If he were an Australian citizen he would now be allowed to get on with the rest of his life. But the zealous prosecutors of Alabama from where Mr Watson and his wife came, have other ideas. They think it's OK for Mr Watson to be tried again for the crime he has committed. And the Australian Government is more than happy to facilitate this outrageous breach of a fundamental principle of law.

That a person should not be tried again for an offence in respect of which he or she can been convicted or acquitted is a fundamental human right. The Article 14 (7) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights is unambiguous. "No-one shall be liable to be tried or punished again for an offence for which he has already been finally convicted or acquitted in accordance with the law and penal procedure of each country," it says. Australia is a signatory to the ICCPR.


There is a debate in this country at the moment about whether or not the principle of double jeopardy should apply in cases where a person is acquitted. But Mr Watson's case does not fall into that category. He was investigated, tried, convicted and sentenced under a trial process that was robust and fair. His case was the subject of an appeal to Queensland's highest court, which added an extra six months to his sentence. What is it then about the principle of double jeopardy that the Alabama authorities and the Australian and Queensland governments do not understand?

Alabama's law and order driven politicians and prosecutors were outraged by lack of a murder conviction and the sentence handed down by the Queensland courts and on this basis decided they wanted their man back where they could see if they could put him behind bars forever or kill him through a state-sanctioned execution.

The answer to this request from the Queensland Government and the Federal Government should have been to tell the Alabama authorities and the US federal government to go to hell. But instead of defending the integrity of the Queensland justice system they meekly succumbed to the American demands by handing over evidence. No doubt Mr Dick and the Gillard Government will argue that they have stood up to the Americans by seeking assurances, before they began cooperating, that Mr Watson would not face the death penalty if he were found guilty of the murder of his wife. That's all well and good but why not say "no", period.

Mr Dick's flawed reasoning in this matter is evident in a letter he sent to his Alabama counterpart in August this year. "My interest in this matter is to ensure that Australia's bipartisan opposition to the death penalty is maintained," Mr Dick wrote. What he should have said is that Australia will have no part of an effort to undermine a fundamental human right.

If Gabe Watson is handed over to the US by Australian immigration authorities and Mr Dick it will say much about how little we value an ancient principle of fairness which protects individuals against a capricious or vengeful state. And it will also demonstrate that Australian politicians will buckle to powerful nations like the US and be prepared to undermine the human rights of individuals.

  1. Pages:
  2. Page 1
  3. All

This article was first published on The Drum on November 11, 2010.

Discuss in our Forums

See what other readers are saying about this article!

Click here to read & post comments.

22 posts so far.

Share this:
reddit this reddit thisbookmark with Del.icio.usdigg thisseed newsvineSeed NewsvineStumbleUpon StumbleUponsubmit to propellerkwoff it

About the Author

Greg Barns is National President of the Australian Lawyers Alliance.

Other articles by this Author

All articles by Greg Barns

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

Photo of Greg Barns
Article Tools
Comment 22 comments
Print Printable version
Subscribe Subscribe
Email Email a friend

About Us Search Discuss Feedback Legals Privacy