Big-stick law is a joke

By: Tony Koch

After he absconded, I lived in constant, never-ending terror he would kill again'
THE Parliament of Queensland -- and more particularly the State Government -- has fallen into the trap of approving legislation which is unenforceable.
The Mental Health Act 2000 passed through Parliament last February. While examined by all interested parties, it fails in important aspects to cater for victims.
Section 527, for example, says that a person must not publish information contained in a notice given under a notification order -- and to breach that attracts a fine up to $15,000 or two years' imprisonment.
A ``notification order'' is the document issued by the Patient Review Tribunal, the organisation which considers applications by mentally ill patients for changes to their treatment. Those ``changes'' include release from a security hospital or therapy such as escorted or unescorted day release.
The notification order is now sent to victims of crime, or their families, who have the right to make submissions about any concerns they hold about a patient's treatment being altered, and specifically if he or she should be considered for release from secure custody. But the person notified -- for instance, the partner or parent of a murder victim -- is told that he or she is not entitled to be present at the hearing of the review, but that their submission ``could'' be considered by the tribunal if it decided it was relevant.
Then comes the Big Brother threat: To disclose any details (such as to the media) exposes the person to the $15,000 fine or jail sentence.
Take the case of Robyn Clarke, whose 17-year-old daughter Janaya was stabbed to death on the Gold Coast in November 1998 by Claude John Gabriel. Gabriel was found by the Mental Health Tribunal to have been of unsound mind at the time of the murder, so was ordered to be treated at Wacol's John Oxley hospital and released if and when medical experts deemed he had recovered his health.
Clarke campaigned against Gabriel getting any ``special'' treatment, and her protests were loudest last November when Gabriel, on day leave from the hospital, was spirited away by his parents to Italy. The Gabriel family want him transferred to a mental health facility in Melbourne so he can be near them, and a hearing of the Patient Review Tribunal considered that application last Thursday.
In accordance with the legislation, Clarke would have been advised of that hearing, but she is restrained from saying anything she learns of the outcome -- even in the unlikely event of Gabriel being released absolutely.
The situation, in all its stupidity, is clear. Gabriel, the killer of Clarke's daughter, would be roaming around free just four years after the murder, and if Clarke said anything about it she would be the one in jail. Paying a fine would be out of the question -- she is surviving on a pension.
The big-stick legislation apparently was designed to protect public servants from embarrassment for decisions that went wrong. It gives no consideration to the genuinely aggrieved victims of crime and their families.
In Clarke's submission to the Patient Review Tribunal she explains: ``Claude Gabriel not only took my daughter's life, he stole our future. He robbed my children of their childhood, their innocence, their big sister. Claude Gabriel took away our birthdays, our Christmas, our celebrations, our happiness. He took away my future grandchildren, my secrets, hopes and dreams.
``He stole my belief and faith in the goodness of people. He stole my health and my sanity. His actions have made me fear men and I will never again trust people. I don't go out, I don't play sport anymore. I don't like to meet people. I am 38 years old, but I look and feel much older. I am finding it impossible to get a job. I want to work. I want to look after my other kids like I used to, but I find I just can't do it. We have no money, no car, we can't afford holidays, we have no security, no peace of mind -- and no hope . . .
`I HAVE no faith in the Mental Health Tribunal. We have suffered a great deal due to your decisions regarding Gabriel. You have put his wellbeing and rights ahead of mine and my family's. Your system disregarded all of our warnings and pleas. I was at first patronised and then warned of all kinds of dire consequences should I dare criticise or even comment on your tribunal's decisions.
``Your decision to allow Gabriel leave was reprehensible. After he absconded I lived in constant, never-ending terror that he would kill again. Your tribunal lied to me and misled the public and reinforced my opinion that the Mental Health Tribunal is a joke.''
So what was Thursday's decision of the Patient Review Tribunal? Did Gabriel succeed in his application to transfer to Victoria? The media is not allowed into the hearing. Clarke was not allowed in. And if she was, she cannot tell us what she heard because she might be thrown in jail.
Peter Beattie, you have to be joking!