Despite Schapelle Corby’s release, dangers remain for Australians overseas: legal expert

Schapelle Corby 

The imminent deportation of Schapelle Corby from Indonesia may be good news for her and her family, but it does not lessen the risks faced by Australians who are arrested overseas, according to an international law expert from Western Sydney University.

Professor of International Law in the School of Law, Steven Freeland, is a former Visiting Professional within the Appeals Chamber of the International Criminal Court.

He says that the return of Ms Corby to Australia following her conviction in Indonesia of drug-related offences in 2004, and her 20-year sentence, is a reminder that all Australians are subject to the laws of the country in which they find themselves.

"Unfortunately, there appears to be an increasing number of Australians currently facing criminal prosecution before the courts of other countries," says Professor Freeland.

"Indeed, just as Schapelle Corby returns to Australia, another Australian, Cassie Sainsbury, is in a Colombian jail facing very serious drugs charges, and John Zakhariev has appeared in a Bulgarian court charged with terrorism-related offences."

Professor Freeland says coupled with the 20-year sentence handed down to Jock Palfreeman also in Bulgaria, the 10-year sentence given to Stern Hu in China, the fate of the 'Bali Nine' including, of course, the tragic execution of Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran in Indonesia in 2015, it is clear that the consequences of being accused of breaking the law overseas – particularly in relation to serious crimes – can be very grave indeed.

"Even though these situations generate tremendous publicity in Australia, it may be worth considering whether we need a more visible public campaign to further educate us all about the risks associated with potentially criminal conduct overseas," he says.

"International human rights norms requires that everyone is entitled to a presumption of innocence but, even before a trial, an accused can be subjected to very difficult conditions of detention for lengthy periods in some countries"

Professor Freeland warns that, whilst it is able to provide consular assistance, there is not much that the Australian Government can formally do to impact upon the domestic legal processes in each country, including the trial process and sentencing.

He says cases such as these highlight the advantages of bilateral treaty arrangements, which would allow for the nationals of one country to serve out any prison sentence in their home country.

"These arrangements allow Australians in the prisons of other countries to potentially return home to much more familiar surroundings close to their family and support network," he says. "From a 'rehabilitation' viewpoint of justice, this is a much preferred arrangement."

"Naturally, such agreements would operate on a reciprocal basis and may not be applicable in every situation, although it would give hope to those who find themselves in desperate circumstances."


   26 May 2017

Mark Smith, Senior Media Officer