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Prison Minister kept in dark over secret prisoner’s 18-month jailing

Prison Minister kept in dark over secret prisoner’s 18-month jailing

By Bill Rowlings, CLA CEO

So secret was a Canberra trial and jailing that the ACT’s Minister for Corrections (who is also the territory Minister for Justice) knew nothing about the case until the story hit the media.

Even Minister Shane Rattenbury was kept in the dark for the 18 months of the sentence, his corrections adviser has acknowledged.

Rattenbury is allegedly responsible for everything to do with the ACT’s jail, called the Alexander Maconochie Centre.

Minister Rattenbury, days after the story broke, still did not know what the charges were against “Witness J” (or Alan Johns, as named in the Supreme Court appeal against jail privileges being withdrawn.

In other words, he – as the ACT’s official jailer – has locked up someone without knowing who he is, or what he was charged with, or guilty of.

Apparently, a protocol arrangement between state/territory jails and the AFP/security spooks allows for federal directions to the jails concerning extraordinary prisoner rules and regulations, beyond the norm. That’s how the AFP was able to dictate that it be told of “unusual” visitor requests, as judge John Burns described things.

Now the hunt is on to find out how many secret prisoners, arraigned and convicted in secret trials for secret offences, are in other jails throughout Australia.


CLA asks these questions:

  • How many ’secret’ prisoners are there in Australia currently?
  • How many have there been in the past 20 years?
  • How many other secret cases have been run in other State/Territory Supreme Courts, or in Federal courts?
  • Where, and when?
  • What are the offences that people have been charged with, under what laws?
  • What has been the length of sentences of people sentenced in such ’secret’ trials?
  • Has anyone taken before a court in a ’secret’ trial been acquitted? (Where and when and in what circumstances).
  • Are there similar ’secret’ cases pending: where and when over what?
  • Who is making the decision to prosecute?
  • Are the trials jury trials?
  • Is the presumption of innocence maintained or is the onus reversed?
  • Are there any restrictions/constraints on legal representation/defence?
  • What appeal mechanisms are available?
  • What is the basis of the secrecy requirements in an open democratic society?

“The secrecy surrounding the case has been imposed by commonwealth orders. Those orders – themselves not publicly available – prevent the identification of the inmate or the publication of the charges he faced.” The Guardian’s Christopher Knaus, who broke the original story, has reported.


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