Bali 9 barrister defying the odds to save Aussies on death row

Julian McMahon (Australian of the Year website)

Australia must continue to campaign against the death penalty in our region, writes Nick McKenzie in The Age.

In a kitchen in suburban Melbourne sit two English lawyers who have saved hundreds of convicted criminals from execution.

Parvais Jabbar and Saul Lehrfreund's strike rate of keeping death row clients alive in the Caribbean and Africa is nothing short of extraordinary – more than 90 per cent, they say, much of it done from a cluttered London office smaller than the kitchen we are sitting in.

Across the kitchen table is Melbourne barrister Julian McMahon, an intense, quietly-spoken criminal defence advocate.

His record is grimmer then his English counterparts, though not from lack of effort. Mr McMahon was recently awarded a Companion of the Order of Australia for his efforts trying to keep Australians on death row alive.

His best-known clients, though, are dead. It is likely that McMahon will lose more clients in Asia in the coming years. Teaming up with Mr Jabbar and Mr Lehrfeund is aimed at changing these odds.

In 2002, Mr McMahon and Lex Lasry, QC, led the campaign to stop the hanging of Melbourne man Van Nguyen , a low-level drug mule arrested in transit in Singapore.

Media reports that Nguyen found religion on death row never fully reflected the depth of his discovery, detailed in his prison diaries. At a gathering a year after his death, friends and family shared stories about Nguyen's transformation on death row and his bravery in facing death.

A little-known fact is that he was prepared to testify against the Australian heroin syndicate that recruited him. His death meant he never got the chance.

Research has proven that the death penalty does not work as a deterrent, yet even the proponents of deterrence must acknowledge that Nguyen's execution achieved precisely the opposite effect: it allowed a syndicate to continue to operate with impunity.

Ten years later, Mr McMahon farewelled his clients the Bali nine members Myuran Sukumaran and Andrew Chan. They were shot dead in Indonesia.

Mr McMahon says Australia's relative inactivity in advocating for abolishment is changing. In 2015, Australia made it clear that it opposed all executions in all circumstances.


Australia must continue to campaign against the death penalty in our region (The Age)

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