If you haven’t already, do yourself a favour and listen to The War on Drugs, a band out of Philadelphia, and in particular the song Under the Pressure, the titular track to the lyrics above.
And even better, watch a live version of it. It’s everything – an intense combination of melody, rock and ballad. To my mind a perfect ensemble that represents “pressure”.
We are all under pressure. Individuals, businesses, doctors, police, courts, lawyers, the list goes on. An ensemble of competing priorities. If only we could reach harmony like a song. But those domestic pressures are, on occasion, a result of the additional pressure on our rights. The presumption of innocence, the right to fair process, and the incursions on us through coercive and compulsory powers at the hands of authorities. This is the new way.
There is pressure on governments to introduce measures, to enact laws, and to regulate our very existence. There has been a seismic shift in the way in which the law now controls us all, and by that I mean the rights we have lost, and scarily, the rights some are prepared to forgo. I have been deeply troubled at the constant erosion of our rights for some time.
For example, we live in a world where we place great trust in technology – most of us keep our very existence on our electronic devices.
These days, when someone is investigated for an offence or even some sort of professional misconduct, the first thing investigators try to seize upon is those devices to establish whether or not the devices have evidence to support the particular subject matter of the relevant investigation.
There is no right to individual privacy, but we must ensure we do everything possible to ensure the conduct of investigators with those devices is lawful. If there is any sniff that it’s not, that fight must be taken. Sometimes the very access to a device opens a Pandora’s box.
Extraordinary powers given to authorities to use compulsive processes is another example. Coercive examinations under oath, directions to produce certain documents, requirements to hand over things. Subscribing to the theory that “those with nothing to hide have nothing to fear” is not helpful.
Benjamin Franklin said: “Those who would give up essential liberty, to purchase a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.”
We must constantly talk among ourselves about the effect on our rights when lawmakers change the law.
Kerry Packer’s famous “tax minimisation” speech to a Senate inquiry hearing was accompanied by a suggestion: “If you want to pass a new law, why don’t you do it when you’ve repealed an old one? This idea of just passing legislation every time someone blinks is a nonsense … every time you pass a law you take somebody’s privileges away from them.”
And what about the role of the media, particularly in high profile matters – what rights does the punter have to protect the fair running of their trial? Sure, open justice requires the media to be able to report on matters in the public interest, but as I read somewhere recently, “when does the public interest blur between trial by media?”, especially so in today’s modern technological world.
These days it is all too common to open a news report about a matter that is or will soon be before the courts and see the two cents thrown in by commentators. One can be forgiven for thinking they know better than the lawyers or the courts at times.
How much further will the right to silence, the right to a fair trial or process and the presumption of innocence diminish in the next five, 10 or 20 years?
What additional coercive and compulsory requirements to “do something” are individuals and businesses going to experience?
Are rights just going to give way to pressure from the public or other authorities?
Is this just “the new way we have to come around to”? Your guess is as good as mine, but I shudder at the thought. Pleasingly, recent High Court decisions seem to side with the little guy on such fundamental rights, but that can often be a long and expensive process.
One thing I can say is that receiving legal advice at the earliest possible stage when you or your business confront a problem, is the key. It might be an ICAC matter, it might be a police matter, it might be a WorkSafe investigation or prosecution, it might simply just be a workplace issue.
Whatever the case, leaving it too late can have consequences and unwittingly waive asserting the rights or privileges you have. Sometimes the advice is not what you want to hear, but must. That’s the importance of getting (good) advice early, to fiercely protect your rights where you can.
Pressure. Put those who desire less of our fundamental rights, under it.