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  • Writer's pictureSam Wilks

The Intersection of International Human Rights and Australia's Criminal Justice System


In a world increasingly defined by the intertwining of global norms and local practices, the impact of international human rights standards on Australia's criminal justice system offers a compelling study. As a security consultant and trainer, having shepherded several hundred security professionals through the maze of modern security challenges, I've witnessed first-hand the evolving landscape of law enforcement and public safety. My experience, along with the practical insights of others in the realm of public security, has afforded me a unique vantage point from which to observe these dynamics.

The crux of this transformation lies in the ever-growing influence of international human rights standards, which have begun to leave an indelible mark on Australia's criminal justice system. This evolution can be likened to a dance, sometimes harmonious, sometimes contentious, between global ideals and local enforcement realities.

At the heart of this dialogue is the recognition of human dignity and the imperative to balance societal safety with individual rights. Historical proponents of penal reform emphasise the need for a justice system grounded in rationality, fairness, and the avoidance of cruelty. These principles resonate with modern interpretations of human rights, echoing in the corridors of Australia's legal institutions.

However, the translation of these global standards into the fabric of Australian law enforcement and security practices is neither straightforward nor unidirectional. It's a complex, multi-layered process, rife with challenges and opportunities. It requires a deep understanding of the subtleties involved in protecting the public while respecting individual liberties, a balancing act that I endeavour to master.

The influence of international human rights norms in Australia is most palpable in areas such as policing, incarceration, and judicial processes. There's a perceptible shift towards greater accountability, transparency, and a focus on rehabilitation over mere punishment. This mirrors the vision of reformists, who advocated for punishment to fit the crime and not be an instrument of torture.

Due to my business background, I have observed and contemplated the profound implications these standards have had on the economic and cultural dimensions of Australia's criminal justice system. The implementation of international human rights standards in Australia promotes more humane and dignified treatment of individuals within the criminal justice system.


However, these proposed advancements have substantial economic ramifications. The drive to align with these standards often necessitates upgraded facilities, enhanced services, and increased staffing—factors that significantly elevate the cost of incarceration. This financial burden is exacerbated by the requisite legal processes aligned with ensuring rights compliance, thus inflating the overall expenses of legal representation.

This economic reality is not simply a matter of allocating more funds. Billions have flooded the "corrections industry" and the taxpayer-funded NGO's and bureaucratic services associated with them, and the system, compared to the mid-1970s by all rankings, is substantially worse. This reflected a shift in how society views and values the rights of those entangled within the criminal justice system.

The emphasis on rehabilitation over mere punishment, a concept rooted in the philosophies of reformists, demands more than just physical changes in infrastructure; it requires investment in education, mental health services, and rehabilitation programs. So, the government provided the funds—billions upon billions of taxpayers money, wasted as education standards have dropped significantly, mental health is in crisis, and the wait times in rehabilitation programs promote only self-harm.


Such comprehensive care was undoubtedly beneficial for the long-term reintegration of offenders into society, according to every academic, but it also posed significant challenges in terms of resource allocation and cost management. Unfortunately, with almost 60 years of data, it is clear that these additional services, funding, and investments produced an even larger gap and have failed, not everywhere, but with few examples of success.

Another critical area where international human rights standards have left their mark is the lengthening time that prisoners spend on remand. Ensuring the rights of accused individuals often entails thorough and meticulous legal processes. While this diligence is crucial for justice and fairness, it inevitably leads to prolonged periods of remand. This not only strains the resources of detention facilities but also raises questions about the psychological and social impact on those awaiting trial, many of whom may eventually be found not guilty.

The effective management of criminal justice institutions requires a delicate balance between ensuring security and upholding the rights of the detained. Prolonged remand periods challenge this balance, complicating the task of maintaining order and safety within these facilities. The proliferation of regulatory fines during the 1980s and 1990s caused the public great annoyance; however, it was an effective response to the costs of mass incarceration. Unfortunately, due in part to the revenue addiction of many Australian governments and the punitive views of many bureaucrats, these fines, which were originally a couple hundred dollars, are now in the thousands. This provides ample evidence of the requirement for an entity to regulate the abuse of parliament, unfortunately. elections are too few and far between.

Perhaps the most perplexing challenge lies in addressing the violence and criminality that stem from local cultural belief systems. International human rights standards, while universal in their intent, clash with ingrained cultural norms and social structures that contribute to criminal behaviours. Try to explain the complexities of bad blood, poison cousins, tribal-clan disputes, and national sovereignty to an international human rights representative, and their eyes glaze over.

This dissonance highlights a crucial aspect of criminal justice reform: the need for contextual and culturally sensitive approaches. Effective crime prevention and rehabilitation cannot occur in a vacuum. It requires a deep understanding of the local cultural milieu and the factors that drive individuals towards criminality and their pathway to providing contrition and eventual acceptance.


This understanding is vital for designing interventions that are not only rights-compliant but also effective in addressing the root causes of crime. Many tribes still use spearing, bashing, and banishment in Australia, and some light-skinned Aboriginals from Victoria or Sydney would get their heads smashed in just for asking culturally sensitive questions without following the right cultural pathways in other parts of the country. Australia, with its diverse cultural landscape, faces unique challenges in this regard. The application of international human rights standards refuses to be nuanced and adapted to resonate with the varied cultural contexts within this country. This is a complex task, demanding not only legal and institutional changes but also shifts in societal attitudes and practices. Worse, given the current leadership of the UN over the last 20 years, explain to me how persons who have committed atrocities in their homelands can have the gall to lecture my people on "acceptable behaviour". It just doesn't pass the pub test at all. There has been some positive relief. For instance, in policing, there's an increasing emphasis on community engagement, cultural sensitivity, and de-escalation techniques. This approach aligns with the broader human rights doctrine of proportionality and respect for the inherent dignity of every individual, regardless of their actions or status. It's a concept that security professionals, myself included, constantly discuss during training sessions. We emphasise the need for officers to be not just directors of the law but guardians of the community's welfare.

Australia's move towards improving prison conditions, promoting rehabilitative programs, and reducing solitary confinement practices can be seen as a direct consequence of global human rights advocacy. These measures reflect a shift in perspective, viewing prisoners not merely as offenders to be punished but as individuals with the potential for reform and reintegration into society. However, the government spends a lot of time trying to force these changes on individuals instead of respecting their autonomy to make choices about opportunities.

The road is fraught with challenges. The practical realities of implementing these standards can often clash with on-the-ground exigencies. Security personnel must navigate a landscape where threats are real and ever-present. There is a need for robust, effective security measures to protect public safety.

The crux of the matter lies in finding that elusive equilibrium—a point where the enforcement of law and order does not trample upon the rights and dignities of individuals. It requires a nuanced understanding of human behaviour, societal dynamics, and legal frameworks.

In reflecting on the impact of international human rights standards on Australia's criminal justice system, it becomes evident that this is a journey of both progress and paradox. While these standards may eventually lead to more humane and dignified treatment of individuals within the system, they have also introduced new costs, complexities and challenges.

The effects on the economy, the long jail sentences, and the difficulty in dealing with criminal behaviour that has roots in culture are not just effects; they are important parts of the story that need to be dealt with in a smart and planned way. It calls for a holistic approach that not only respects and upholds international norms but also remains attuned to local contexts and realities.

In this ongoing endeavour, the insights and experiences of elders, present thinkers, and practitioners in the field of criminal justice and security remain invaluable. They guide us, challenge us, and inspire us to strive for a system that is not only just and fair but also effective and sustainable. The path ahead is complex, but it is one that must be navigated with diligence, empathy, and an unwavering commitment to both justice and humanity.

International human rights standards provide some guidelines; they are another provider of opinion on matters, some effective and many not only ineffective but harmful. As a trainer, I rely on analysis, critical thinking, and industry best practices, not arbitrary standards. For instance, the most discriminatory act in the world is to treat everyone the same regardless of their age, skills, education, and abilities. Yet, equity is one of the "standards" pushed by international human rights standards, when a person isn't equal to who they were one day from another, let alone anyone else. In most reasonable people's opinion, those who promote equity are just plain evil. Note from the author.


The opinions and statements are those of Sam Wilks and do not necessarily represent whom Sam Consults or contracts to. Sam Wilks is a skilled and experienced Security Consultant with almost 3 decades of expertise in the fields of Real estate, Security, and the hospitality/gaming industry. His knowledge and practical experience have made him a valuable asset to many organizations looking to enhance their security measures and provide a safe and secure environment for their clients and staff.

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