Andrew Jaffrey is a freelance journalist.
For decades media reporting on criminal matters has been regulated so that trials aren't prejudiced. Many top criminal lawyers monitor media publications to ensue their clients are not adversely treated in the media. There are several instances in the last few years where defence counsel have been able to have trials against their clients either restarted or in some case quashed all together because of alleged unfair reporting.
It is now more common for police and the DPP to issue warnings through the media that people should avoid talking about some matters on social media platforms for fear of jeopordising future prosecutions. The NSW Police Facebook page implores people not to name suspects on their pages for fear of the consequences. In this context therefore the events surrounding the arrest and subsequent court appearance of Federal MP Craig Thomson were extraordinary.
Last Wednesday the Member for Dobell was in his electorate office located at the Westfield shopping centre in Tuggerah on the central coast of NSW. One of his staff is said to have alerted him to the fact that several TV crews were outside his office and at this point the embattled MP realised something major was about to happen. In fact the night before several media sources were alerted to the imminent arrest of the MP and newsrooms around the country scrambled to make sure they had staff on the ground to cover the event. And so as many shoppers were out buying their lunches, their local federal member was paraded through the shopping centre to a waiting car to be driven to Wyong police station where he would be charged with a holding offence under an interstate arrest warrant issued out of Victoria. Thomson called his lawyer, accredited Industrial Relations specialist Chris McArdle just after 1pm to inform him of his arrest.
At this point in time most criminal lawyers would make arrangements to attend their client personally or arrange a colleague to do so to ensure their client was being treated in accordance with their rights as an accused person. Instead Mr McArdle started calling members of the press to express his concern not at the arrest itself but how it was carried out.
By now the Thomson case was all over social media, afternoon TV news programs were racing to get 'first pictures' to air and a veritable press scrum had converged on Wyong courthouse. Just after 3pm Mr McArdle said he was concerned that Mr Thomson wasn't granted bail by the NSW Police who had arrested him and that he expected bail would be granted by the Magistrate at Wyong. Despite this Mr Thomson was forced to represent himself at both the police station and subsequent bail application.
After Thomson was formally charged by NSW Police by virtue of the arrest warrant he was refused bail and taken to the courthouse by uniformed officers. At this point he was handed over into the custody of two officers from the Department of Corrective Services who manage the holding cells at the courthouse. As part of being received into custody Thomson was strip searched and placed into on of the two holding cells under the courthouse. Here he would wait until his matter was called and he would be brought up to the waiting Magistrate. Local Court staff stayed on later than the usual 4pm cut off to enable Mr Thomson to be released on court bail shortly after 5:15pm. Had they not Mr Thomson would have spent the night at Cessnock remand centre and been released the following morning once his paperwork was processed.
Despite police and corrections staff taking all necessary steps to afford Mr Thomson the same rights afforded to all people brought befofre the courts his lawyer Mr McArdle took to the media to accuse the police of political point scoring and corrections staff as being "goons" to his client.
In a bizzare first interview given to Channel 10's late news program that night, Mr McArdle told anchor Matt Doran "he had to take all of his clothes off and stand naked in front of these two galoots who then took him into the courtroom and sat each side of him in case he stole the bible and ran off" and then went on to quip "To strip search a person on these charges is beyond precedent". You can see the full interview here
Well Mr McArdle its not beyond precedent it happens in every court cell complex every day to hundreds of people. Its done to protect the prisoner and to protect those working in the complexes. Its also done to ensure safety of the other inmates. And the visiting criminal lawyers. A clearly furious Corrective Services commissioner spoke the following day outlining the procedures that are in place for all inmates regardless of their status. He objected to his staff being referred to as "goons".
During a brief telephone interview on Monday I asked Mr McArdle if he'd ever defended a client on a criminal matter before. He said, "Well I'd better start reading up - hah!"
I cant remember a time when a lawyer used the media - the very same media he blames for starting this whole mess in the first place - to then turn to the media to protest his clients innocence and insult the very system which he wants to have in place to make sure his client gets a fair trial. If I was Craig Thomson Id be downloading the yellow pages app to my phone asap.
Its tail wagging dog 101.