Liu Xiaobo, jailed Chinese human rights activist, awarded Nobel Peace Prize

October 8, 2010 Leave a comment
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Where is the burden of proof? (‘Calls for law reform after girl sold for sex’)

September 29, 2010 Leave a comment

This is not a pleasant case, but it raises important legal issues worthy of critical reflection.  Read the media report and then ask yourself whether there are certain circumstances where the onus of proof should be on the defendant rather than the prosecutor.

‘Calls for law reform after girl sold for sex’ (ABC News, 29 September 2010)

The case involved the girl whose mother and a man named Gary Devine advertised her in the local paper as being an 18-year-old prostitute.

They have been jailed for 10 years for their crimes.

More than 100 people raped the girl in Hobart last year but the Director of Public Prosecutions has told police he does not have enough admissible evidence to take all of the men to court.

Convicting the two adult guardians is straight forward.  But there are also more than 100 people who could be convicted of statutory rape of this under-aged girl.  Convicting them has proven to be a lot harder.  This is because many of them proclaimed ignorance of the girl’s actual age and the prosecution has found it hard to prove otherwise.  This has lead to calls for legal reform whereby in statutory rape case, the onus would be on the defendants to show that they are ignorant of the victim’s actual age.  Professor Caroline Taylor from Edith Cowan University is one of those who call for reform.

Professor Taylor says in underage sex cases the onus of proof must be identified by the Crown.  This means that in rape cases in which age is an issue, perpetrators can claim ignorance…

“What it means is we have unworkable laws that fail to protect children. We have a legal system that acknowledges that it traumatises children and therefore the loser in every case is children.”

Professor Taylor says the law should be reformed so the onus is on the defendant to prove he or she believed the child was older.

Categories: Criminal Justice

Defamation through algorithm? Google lost libel lawsuit over a search result

September 28, 2010 Leave a comment

This is legal history and future students of law and technology should take note.

‘Defamation by algorithm: Google found guilty of libel through ‘suggest’ search function’ (Sydney Morning Herald, 28 September 2010)

Internet giant Google and its chief executive Eric Schmidt have been convicted of defaming a Frenchman through its “suggest” search function.

The man, who was not identified for legal reasons, sued Google, claiming the words “rapist”, “rape”, “prison” and “satanist” were suggested when his name was typed into the company’s web search portal, a French legal website revealed…

Google argued it was not liable for the defamation, as it used algorithms that reflected the most common terms used in the past with words that were entered, and so did not involve Google making the suggestions itself.

First of all, you should note that the journalist here has confused legal terminologies.  Since this is a civil lawsuit, words like ‘convicted’ should not have been used.  Really, it should be ‘Google has been found liable for defamation’.  A minor point, but perhaps it is helpful that note that even journalists can make simple mistakes more commonly seen among senior legal studies students.

Back to the main point of this blog, which is all about legal history.  A particular Frenchman’s name was unfortunately linked with incriminating words like ‘rape’ and ‘satanists’.  Google claimed that this is the result of their search engine algorithm.  I.e. they never set out to associate his name with those words in the search result.  The French court has ruled in the plaintiff’s favour.  First of all, how did this happen in the first place?

How does Google work?

Google became leader in the search engine market through its patented search engine algorithm.  It is done by clusters of computers checking and ranking search results.  The search engine algorithm does this with no sense of commercial, political or personal bias and the company is not in the business of producing search results that show such biases.  However, there have been exceptions in the past.

In January, Google agreed to take down links to a website that promoted racist views of indigenous Australians.  (Google) took the decision to remove the link from its search engine after an indigenous Australian man took legal action against the company and an official complaint to the Australian Human Rights Commission was filed.

Since the parties to this case reached an out of court settlement, it did not set any legal precedent. In the case of this Frenchman, he actually was found guilty of rape, but he is appealing against the verdict, and in French law that means he is still considered innocent until proven guilty by a court of appeal.  However, this case was already discussed on the online media and chatroom.  Therefore it is no surprise that the plaintiff’s name was associated by Google search engine with words like ‘rapists’.  Despite the fact that the French court found the case in favour of the plaintiff, the damages imposed on Google is not all that substantial.

But a Paris court found this month that the technology company was guilty of the “public slandering of a private individual”.

It ordered Google to pay a symbolic amount of 1 euro ($1.40) in damages and to make sure the offence would not be repeated.

The court also found Google did not show good faith in the matter and ordered it to pay 5000 euros towards the plaintiff’s costs.

5001 euros is of no financial significance to one of the largest companies in the world.  However, it is of legal and operational significance, since this could affect how Google uses its patented technology to produce accurate search results.  Unsurprisingly, Google is appealing this verdict.  The E-commerce world is no doubt watching this case’s development with keen interests.

Assess the effectiveness of legal attempts to improve the status of women. (Sample essay)

September 23, 2010 Leave a comment

Brainstorm:

  • The past … one paragraph … very general
  • Divide the essay into areas where excellent progress has been made and areas where progress still needs to be made …
  • Marriage … Family Law Act 1975
  • Right to vote …
  • Right to teritary and equal education …
  • Jury duty …
  • Right to own property …
  • Domestic violence
  • Discrimination in workplace  – article about pregnancy discrimination
  • Make the point about lack of access for migrant women
  • Promotion – problem of glass ceiling
Categories: Women Tags:

SuperMax inmates ‘uses’ facebook and the government is exploring ways to stop it

September 22, 2010 Leave a comment

Some of our most notorious prisoners, such as Ivan Milat and Bassem Hamzy, have apparently set up Facebook profiles.  Obviously they don’t really have access to computers inside prisons, but they are probably set up by relatives and friends.  There are security-related concerns and the NSW Minister for Corrective Services, Phil Costa is exploring ways to stop it.

Costa looks at new law to stop inmates having Facebook profiles (Sydney Morning Herald, 23 September 2010)

The state government has refused to rule out introducing legislation that would ban Facebook profiles being created on behalf of NSW prisoners.  The Corrective Services Minister, Phil Costa, said he would seek to have prisoners’ profiles removed from Facebook after revelations in the Herald that inmates of SuperMax, where the worst criminals are kept, have a presence on the social media website.

Family and friends are believed to manage the profiles, helping inmates to stay in touch with the outside world.

However, this is perhaps where legal means of addressing legal issues arising from cyberspace might falter.  A more effective approach might be non-legal, involving establishing a cooperative relationship between facebook and governmental authorities.

David Vaile, the executive director of the cyberspace law and policy centre at the University of NSW, said the government should establish a working relationship with online services such as Facebook.

Such relationships would be more effective than a new law in removing offensive or inappropriate material. ”The way you put pressure on companies that you don’t have direct legal power over is by having a good relationship … and by being seen as measured and reasonable and only asking them to deal with the most extreme matters,” he said.

Massive hacker attack on Twitter caused unwittingly by Melbourne teenager

September 22, 2010 Leave a comment

There were no breach of privacy as a result of this hacker attack on Twitter, but that was just luck.  The potential clearly existed for hackers to exploit this into a serious privacy breach, including the user accounts of senior White House officials.  The fact that some people’s Twitter links were redirected to Japanese porn sites was probably lucky considering the more disastrous alternatives.

Melbourne schoolboy blamed for Twitter meltdown (ABC News, 23 September 2010)

A 17-year-old Australian schoolboy said he unwittingly caused a massive hacker attack on Twitter which sent users to Japanese porn sites and took out the White House press secretary’s feed.

Pearce Delphin, whose Twitter name is @zzap, admitted exposing a security flaw which was then pounced upon by hackers, affecting thousands of users and causing havoc on the microblogging site for about five hours.

Mr Delphin, who lives with his parents in Melbourne, said he tweeted a piece of “mouseover” JavaScript code which brings up a pop-up window when the user hovers their cursor over the message.

But the idea was soon taken up by hackers who tweaked the code to re-direct users to pornographic sites and create “worm” tweets that replicated every time they were read.

The fact was that Mr Delphin was not intending to ‘hack’.  He merely found a way of using Twitter to his own liking.  He never had malicious intention.  Yet his post caused a security meltdown at Twitter.  He is unlikely to be prosecuted for his action, but it does illustrate the difficulty of policing the internet.  It also makes a complete mockery of the attempts to restrict the internet through draft bills in Parliament by the current Minister for Communication and Technology, Stephan Conroy.  The internet is too fast, and too anonymous.  Nonetheless, you cannot blame politicians for trying to do so, since the potential for criminal behaviour clearly exists.

For more relevant media articles on hacking: http://www.abc.net.au/news/tag/hacking/.

Some study and exam tips for Year 11 Legal Studies

September 22, 2010 2 comments

My apology for this lateness.  I’m leaving the school soon and there’s always seems to be more to do in terms of transitional tasks.

Regarding the essay section (Port Arthur)

  1. Make sure you have a full understanding of the legal history of gun law reform in Australia, including attempts taken before Port Arthur massacre.
  2. While studying revision, make a quick list of all the relevant media articles.  Jot some quick notes about them.  Think about how they might be used in a legal studies essay.  You should already have media articles in your notes.  There are more on this website.
  3. When you attempt the essay during revision and exam, make sure your plan, your paragraphs and your overall essay all directly address the keywords of the given essay question.  Do not regurgitate prepared answers into the exam.
  4. When you see the essay question for the first time, read it and think.  What is the question really asking you?  Then write your plan accordingly.

Regarding the essay section (Women)

  1. Similar advise to Port Arthur.
  2. You can also get some useful media articles to use on this link to the State Library website (http://blog.sl.nsw.gov.au/hsc_legal_studies/index.cfm/Women).

Regarding other sections

  1. Individual and the Law: make sure you know about individual rights and duties.  (Click here for summary notes on Rights.)
  2. Individuals and Technology: make sure you are able to talk about some technology issues, with reference to media articles and preferably legislation or case laws.
  3. Multiple-choice: go through the revision notes for the Half-Yearly exam.