It’s been eight months since Man Haron Monis held 18 hostages for 16 hours in Sydney’s Lindt café.
And top of that list is this: How is it that this man could have been afforded the opportunity to do this? Why wasn’t this man already in prison?
After all, the self-described cleric was very well-known to police. The inquest heard that Monis was on bail for penning vile letters to the families of dead Australian soldiers seven years ago when he committed three sexual offences, and he was on bail when the murder he was charged with being an accessory to was committed.
At the time of the attack that shocked the nation, Monis had an astonishing 43 sexual assault charges against him, made by at least six different women. This included: 22 counts of aggravated sexual assault and 14 counts of aggravated indecent assault, among others.
So why on earth was this man walking free? And why were sexual assault charges and one charge of accessory to murder deemed insufficient to put this violent man behind bars and keep him there?
Read about how the siege tragically ended here.
The inquest has heard a series of blunders involving police and prosecutors meant the court was never told Monis was on bail for the Commonwealth offences when the sex offences were committed. And that a letter drafted by homicide police to the DPP requesting his bail on the murder-related charge be revoked was never sent.
The DPP solicitor never opposed bail and Monis was allowed to walk free two months before the deadly siege.
The fact of the matter is that men who commit atrocious acts of violence against women are still given far too lenient treatment. Time and again, our courts fail the community – and women in particular – by failing to take a strong stance on these crimes.
And now, once again, the safety of the community was directly jeopardised and violated as a direct result of the way in which our courts trivialise and minimize sexual assault and violence against women.
While responsibility for the hostage deaths will always lie completely with Monis, this is not the first time that people have died because of cracks within the system which perpetrators have managed to either fall through or exploit.
Let’s recall that Jill Meagher’s murderer, Adrian Ernest Bayley was out on parole at the time when he raped and murdered her.
At the time of Jill’s death, Bayley had had already been convicted of raping and attempting to rape eight women, and police were aware that he had a history spanning over two decades of raping women. He has since been found guilty of raping another three women.
More recently, there is the case of Quy Huy Hoang, a Sydney maths teacher who was charged in August last year with one count of aggravated sexual intercourse with a child under the age of 10. The day after he was charged, Huang was released on bail by Liverpool local court. One month later, Hoang was charged again, with two more counts of aggravated sexual assault with a child under 10. And once again, he was granted bail, this time by Fairfield local court. The absurdity doesn’t end there: just three weeks later, he was charged yet again with two more counts of aggravated sexual assault against a child under 10 (bringing the total to 5 charges) plus two more charges of indecency on two adults. The outcome? On September 26 he was granted bail by Fairfield local court.
When is enough, enough?
Stricter bail laws have since been enacted in NSW in relation to crimes that carry a life sentence, involve the sexual assault of a child or involve use of a firearm.
While tougher bail laws are important, it is cold comfort for the victims, their families and all those affected by Monis’ violence.
For a timeline of events, read this post here.
And the simple fact is that it’s not adequate to simply change the bail laws. Our parole system – indeed our entire court system – needs to get tougher on how we recognise and prosecute men who commit acts of sexual and domestic violence.
And we need to stop pretending that Monis merely slipped through ‘a crack in the system’, as though the system works just fine most of the time, and this is some curious aberration. This isn’t a crack in the system: this is typical of an overly lenient system which repeatedly lets offenders walk free.
For too long, courts have focussed on the rehabilitation of violent offenders to the detriment of community safety. For too long, courts have prioritised an offender’s right to parole, over and above the direct safety of the community, and of women in particular.
This needs to stop. As a community we need to speak with one voice and insist on comprehensive change. Because if we care about the lives of all those whose deaths could have been avoided, we must stop being so lenient on those who don’t deserve it.
And we must do it now.