JUST US newspaper battle
Justice Action is in the NSW Supreme Court to fight for detainees' right to information. NSW authorities refused to distribute the election special to prisoners or mental health patients. It went into five other states and territories prison systems, and all judges and MPs. Read the latest Issue.
The latest edition of JUST US – Vol 4/1, was prepared for all prisoners and patients in forensic hospitals in early March. The newspaper informs prisoners and patients of their rights and eligibility to vote, while also providing an overview of the law and order policy positions of the ALP, the Coalition and the Greens from the CJC pre-election Forum before the NSW State Election. It was made relevant to all detainees wherever they are. Despite the right of all members of the community to have access to such information before they voted, NSW authorities refused once again to distribute Just Us.
NSW Corrective Services claimed by email that they already had “adequate sources of information about the election to distribute to offenders” but prisoners stated that they received nothing at all. This refusal to distribute followed two Supreme Court cases against them for the same behaviour. They feel they are above the law. It was in breach of their obligation to detail their objection, as Justice Fullerton decided in the Haque case in 2008. In the Scheff case in 2004 they forced prisoners to vote early to avoid Justice Smart's decision. We have asked the Minister for Justice and Attorney General Greg Smith to intervene. We decided to confront with Justice Health in court.
Justice Health justified their refusal to distribute Just Us because the newspaper “contains language and content that is political in nature and as such would not be deemed suitable for distribution within any NSW health facilities.” They had no conception of patients' rights to be involved in the community! They even blocked our lawyers led by the former Commonwealth Solicitor General David Bennett AC QC from getting instructions from patients. media release
On March 22, we took our case to the NSW Supreme Court so that Just Us might be distributed to patients in NSW forensic hospitals before the state election on March 26. Justice Health offered a settlement to give the paper to "those who hadn't voted", whilst it had instructed patients to return their votes the day before! It meant not a single patient would get the paper! Justice Health wanted to mark it "not endorsed” and would not allow it to set a precedent. We said "no".
Justice Health has fought us at every stage. They tried to strike us out to avoid the judge. media release This is despite their statutory obligation to "care" for their patients and under s.68 of the Mental Health Act to respect patients civil liberties in the least restrictive environment. They are used to total control and give Mental Health patients less respect than prisoners as patients are more vulnerable. It will be a defining battle for what health is about. Who is central - administrators or patients?
Constitutional notices have been given to all states and territories Attorneys General. We have offered a settlement with a protocol for future access with an independent arbitrator to decide disagreement. In the meantime, the newspaper is being distributed to prisoners and patients in other Australian states and territories. Just Us has also been sent to all members of the judiciary and representatives in all Australian parliaments. New Zealand has said it wants its own edition and that is currently being organised.