Criminal Law

By Peter Woodhouse


Gene Gibson case casts light on the need for additional resources for the community legal sector

As a criminal defence lawyer when I am talking to a new client or dealing with a potential client making inquiries over the telephone I often speak about the importance of getting the best legal representation for that person’s matter and assembling the best team (of solicitors, barristers and experts) to assist them. Some cases, like the one of Gene Gibson, illustrate the necessity of doing that.

Yesterday, the Western Australian Court of Appeal unanimously upheld an appeal of young Aboriginal man, Gene Gibson and quashed his conviction for the manslaughter of Josh Warneke in a small community outside of Broome in 2010.

Troublingly, Gibson had pleaded guilty to the charge of manslaughter in 2014 and had been sentenced to seven-and-a-half years in jail after admitting the killing.

Whilst the Court of Appeal judgement is yet to be published, the ABC reports Mr Gibson, who speaks limited English and whose first language is the traditional Pintupi, did not understand the Court process or the instructions given to him by an interpreter when he entered his plea.

The Court of Appeal was apparently told Mr Gibson was advised to plead guilty after he was implicated in witness statements.  Two incriminating witnesses later recanted what they had told police

Ingrid Bishop, the mother of the deceased person, said that the case highlighted a number of deficiencies in Aboriginal Legal Services.

In a statement the WA Aboriginal Legal Service defended their lawyer who took instructions from Gibson and said the police should take full responsibility for Gibson being jailed.

A Corruption and Crime Commission (CCC) investigation into the death of Mr Warneke exposed systemic failures within WA police, focussing on a series of flawed police interviews, including some with Gibson, without an interpreter.

Pointing the finger at various parties doesn’t really help in this situation.  The fact is, this is a sad indictment on the criminal justice system which has inexcusably failed Mr Gibson.

If nothing else this case brings attention to the need for additional funding for Aboriginal Legal Services and Legal Aid agencies around Australia.  From my own experience those agencies are often vastly under resourced and their solicitors considerably overworked.

The final words are best left to Mr Gibson’s lawyer on the appeal, Michael Lundberg, who said: “It’s important to note that there are no winners in this matter.”