Saturday 27 August 2011

Retiring Cairns Supreme Court Justice Stanley Jones gives his final verdict

Melanie Petrinec
Saturday, August 27, 2011
© The Cairns Post

An image of murdered Japanese tourist Michiko Okuyama's parents sitting stoically in the Cairns Supreme Court gallery still lingers in Justice Stanley Jones' memory.

It was his first murder trial as a Supreme Court Justice, and just two weeks short of retirement, it is one of many memories he will take with him after 14 years on the bench in the Far North.

It is memorable not only because of the gruesome details – Ms Okuyama was brutally bashed to death in a vacant CBD building in 1997 and stuffed into a wheelie bin – but also by virtue of the bond he formed with her family after the trial.

Ms Okuyama’s mother, Mikio Okuyama, still visits Cairns on the anniversary of her daughter’s death each year and also takes the time to catch up with the man who sentenced her child’s 16-year-old killer to life in prison.

Justice Jones watched as the 22-year-old victim’s parents sat through a trial that outlined her last moments."The enduring memory I have of that is watching her parents who had come from Japan… they sat stoically throughout the whole time," he says."The sat stony-faced, without any gasping or crying."

After a jury convicted the teenage killer, the Okuyamas presented Justice Jones with a piece of traditional Japanese calligraphy that has held pride of place on a wall in his chambers ever since. But the artwork, along with dozens of legal volumes and pictures of his family, is being moved to his Bayview Heights home as he prepares to sit for the last time as a judge on September 9.

He takes with him 47 years of legal experience, beginning his career as a solicitor in 1964 and practising in that capacity and later as a Queen’s Counsel until being appointed Far Northern Supreme Court Justice in 1997.

Among the most high-profile cases Justice Jones has presided over in Cairns are Ms Okuyama’s murder, and the alleged killing of Bevin Simmonds and his son Brad off the coast of Pormpuraaw.

But the case that made worldwide headlines was that of Cairns skipper Jack Nairn, who was eventually acquitted of the manslaughter of missing divers Tom and Eileen Lonergan.

Commenting on persistent speculation the pair staged their deaths off Port Douglas in 1998, Justice Jones says he "believes they were lost". During his time as a lawyer, his most satisfying case was helping a man wrongly convicted of murder have his sentence overturned.

The barrister the young legal eagle was assisting at the time interrogated the real murderer on the stand, leading to his client’s acquittal. "To have a guy who was incarcerated, and then on a proper trial shown to be innocent … it gives you a lot of satisfaction," he says.

Justice Jones’ years in the legal profession have, unsurprisingly, also led him to form his own opinions on punishment.

He is adamant a stronger focus on rehabilitation, not long-term incarceration, is needed."That’s what building more jails doesn’t do, it doesn’t get to the cause," he said."We are following the American pattern, and it is a failed pattern."

He cites a visit to Sweden, where the government slowly integrates criminals back into society through halfway houses, as a catalyst for his view that prisoners need more assistance when re-entering the community.

The community should also not underestimate the pressure offenders who have been released from prison on parole are under, he says. "Someone on parole is at an enormous risk … they have to go back and do the full remaining term of the sentence, there is no parole," he says.

"They are going to have a much better chance at changing lives for good under that regime than jail."

But he can’t be accused of being out of touch with victims of crime – his own son was severely bashed a number of years ago and suffered minor brain damage, but has now fully recovered.

Justice Jones says juvenile offenders need to be reached out to at a young age and detention centres where they can meet like-minded individuals may not be the ideal place.

He hopes to work with at-risk children through the Pathways to Prevention program in his retirement and will also continue his work with the Benevolent Society as well as using his legal skills in mediation roles.

Time with his family is also at the top of the list. With seven children and four grandchildren, he will have his work cut out for him. But the lifestyle and climate of Cairns has banished thoughts of moving with his wife Helena to Melbourne, where many of their children live.

Justice Jones’ valedictory ceremony will be attended by Chief Justice Paul De Jersey from 9am in Cairns Supreme Court on Friday.

He will sit in court for another week, retiring one day shy of his 70th birthday.

Cairns barrister Jim Henry will take up the post vacated by Justice Jones on September 12.


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