peteg's blog - noise - talks - 2013 10 15 Cowderey

UNSW Justice Talks: Nicholas Cowderey

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Cowderey was famous for taking it to the politicians while he was the Director of Public Prosecutions for NSW back in the 1990s and early 21st century. I read his book Getting Justice Wrong sometime back then. As a semi-retired visiting professor at UNSW, tonight he spoke on those old themes, and gave us his backstory: assisting the Commonwealth in prosecuting R&R drug violations by visiting American soldiers, and four years or more in Papua New Guinea as a prosecutor. Contrary to Fraser et al, this was not a mea culpa: he acted on his beliefs while he had power, though he often found the law and justice to be at odds. We heard of the husband who assisted his wife (suffering from advanced MS) commit suicide who later owned up to it all, forcing the police to charge him with murder. The result was a conviction for assisting suicide and a twelve-month good behaviour bond; some kind of justice in his eyes. He claimed the Greens have "an excellent policy" here. There was also the young Vietnamese bloke who gave a clean needle to a junkie who overdosed later that night, yielding a manslaughter conviction.

Broadly Cowderey explored the schism between justice and the law, and advocated for more discretion for judges etc. — which is cold comfort for those of us outside the legal arena who so easily see the costs and obfuscations and not so often the progress. I got the impression that he felt much of his work as DPP in prosecuting drug offenders was a waste of time, though he was careful to say that the other laws are already strong enough to handle organised crime, black markets and all that. I heard the same about the terrorism laws back in the day.