18 June 2004

Between a rock lobster and a heartless place

Palmer was prosecuted in March 2000 in the Carnarvon Court of Petty Sessions with breaching a regulation under the WA Fish Resources Management Act. He had laid his lobster pots in an area of the coast where fishing for lobsters is prohibited by the regulations, namely Quobba Point.

Palmer was convicted and ordered to pay penalties of more than $28,000, plus costs of $2000. Which would have been all very well had it not been for the fact that he had gone to the Fremantle office of the Fisheries Department and asked for a copy of the regulations covering the 1998-99 rock lobster fishing season.

The 'office lady' told him that they did not have copies of the regulations available to the public. Still, she photocopied the regulations and piled him up with a lot of brochures and notices. None of the materials mentioned the relevant regulation that forbade commercial lobster fishing at Quobba Point.

The Criminal Code of WA spells out that ignorance of the law does not afford any excuse for an offence. But there is also a provision, which exists in other states as well, that people are not criminally responsible if they labour 'under an honest and reasonable, but mistaken, belief in the existence of any state of things'.

So this was a debate about whether Palmer's mistake was a mistake about facts or about the law.

I had to read this twice before I realsied it was not another speculative piece by the Medium Lobster. While everybody should read Fafblog, clearly not everyone should give the High Court of Australia the same close attention.

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