The #MeToo Movement has facilitated the uncritical acceptance of the “I hear, I listen, I believe” mantra, which implies that those claiming to be victims of sexual abuse, must necessarily be believed regardless of the implausibility of their allegations.
Although such allegations may prove to be true, there is a possibility that they could also be fictitious narratives due to faulty memory, or because they are made in a malicious, vengeful manner.
Powerful or well-connected people, like Cardinal George Pell and former Attorney-General, the Hon. Christian Porter have both been accused of historical sexual abuse offences.
The former has since been exonerated by the High Court, while the latter has launched an action for defamation.
Pell and Porter are merely examples of what can happen to a person’s reputation when allegations of sexual impropriety are made against them.
One example is the case of Friar John Fleming, a Catholic priest who since 2008, has been the subject of an intense campaign by The Advertiser and Sunday Mail, a newspaper in Adelaide that discredited his character and smeared his reputation by accusing him of historical sex crimes that occurred more than three decades earlier.
The allegations were investigated by South Australian police and later the decision was made not to lay charges.
The priest sued the newspaper for publicising defamatory material about him.
Fleming lost the first defamation case against the newspaper. Upon appeal, Fleming lost again, with the Supreme Court of South Australia upheld the original verdict. Australia’s High Court refused to hear the appeal on two occasions.
Fleming, a prominent academic and former president of the liberal arts-focused Campion College in Sydney, has now written a book which is yet to be published titled the “Supreme Injustice: Prejudice Wrapped in the Trappings of Justice,” detailing his treatment by Australia’s judicial system.
The book is an eye-opening harrowing read. The narrative clearly illustrates how a person’s reputation can be thoroughly and irretrievably trashed by uncorroborated allegations made by a person who can hide behind the cloak of anonymity.
Indeed, in Fleming’s case the complainant’s identity was not revealed, despite the identity of the alleged miscreant being splashed all over the papers and in the media.
Such treatment is more reminiscent of a tyrannical, dictatorial regime bent on maintaining its power by encouraging people to betray those who oppose the regime.
You would not expect this approach in a liberal democracy which, arguably, is governed by the rule of law.
The obvious injustice that emerges is compounded if a plaintiff—in a defamation action against a newspaper that publishes the unsubstantiated allegations—is expected to prove that he did not commit the alleged acts.
Moreover, the judiciary seems to assume uncritically that, if you are a Catholic priest, you are certainly guilty because of your association with the Catholic Church.
Yes, there have been cases where clerics have abused their position of trust by grooming young girls and boys to serve their perverse paedophilic interests.
But paedophilia is clearly not limited to clerics.
To assume that clerics must necessarily be guilty because of their association with a Church is a good example of the present-day persecution of religion in Australia, and throughout the Western world.
The judges (both the trial judge and the appeal judges) in the Fleming case failed to render a judgement based on a logical, impartial, and thorough analysis of the evidence presented to them.
They proceeded on the basis that the complainant must always be believed, even if their allegations were riddled with uncertainties, discrepancies, inconsistencies, and contradictory statements.
The “I hear, I listen, I believe” mantra, so boldly promoted by progressive politicians, policymakers, and judges, permeated the proceedings, and inexcusably and irreparably damaged the reputation of Fleming.
The book compellingly highlights the many logical inconsistencies in the statements and arguments made by the judges. However, logic does not take us anywhere if jurisprudence is devoid of reason.
Proponents of the “I hear, I listen, I believe” mantra focus on the consequences of its implementation. This is because these proponents may conclude that the unquestionable acceptance of the mantra yields measurable benefits for society.
These benefits would include, but would not be limited to, the expectation that society would be a safer place for impressionable young people, even if occasionally a few innocent people get sacrificed in the process.
However, the uncritical embrace of the “I hear, I listen, I believe” mantra may eventually have fatal consequences for the application of the rule of law in Australia.
Indeed, if the application of the mantra were to result in the crucifixion of many innocent people, a marked deterioration in the application of the rule of law would be observed over time.
The mantra also reverses the onus of proof by imposing it on the defendant, forcing them to prove their innocence. This is a violation of the Briginsham rule, which appears to be inconsistently applied in Australia.
Leading to the ineluctable conclusion is that the “I hear, I listen, I believe” mantra has no place in a liberal democracy which is based on the rule of law.
Gabriël A. Moens is an Emeritus Professor of Law at the University of Queensland, and a former Dean of Law and Pro Vice Chancellor at Murdoch University. He is the author of a novel on the origins of the COVID-19 virus, A Twisted Choice (Boolarong Press, 2020).
Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.
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