Sydney rights lawyer jailed for perjury

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The Independent Online

Marcus Einfeld was known as the judge who wept at an inquiry into Aboriginal social disadvantage. Today it was his own plight that grieved the former human rights lawyer, as he was jailed for trying to avoid a A$77 (£36) speeding fine.

In a spectacular fall from grace, Mr Einfeld was given a three-year sentence for perjury and perverting the course of justice. It was the culmination of a bizarre three-year saga during which he repeatedly insisted he had not been driving his silver Lexus in January 2006 when it was clocked at 6mph over the limit by a speed camera in Sydney.

An internationally distinguished figure, who received the United Nations Peace Award in 2002 for his legal and human rights work, he told police he had lent his car to an American friend, Professor Theresa Brennan.

The 70-year-old – who at the time risked losing his licence because of accumulated penalty points – gave evidence to that effect, and the case was dismissed by a magistrate.

But a newspaper then discovered Professor Brennan had died three years earlier. Mr Einfeld subsequently said the driver had been a different woman, with the same name. He then invented an alibi implicating his 92-year-old mother, whose Toyota Corolla he claimed to have been using that day. But security footage showed the car had remained in the garage of her apartment block.

Only when his trial began last October did Mr Einfeld, the son of a state Labor minister, and founding president of Australia's Human Rights and Equal Opportunities Commission (HREOC), plead guilty.

The judge, Bruce James, was unimpressed, observing that his crimes "struck at the heart of the administration of justice".

It was as HREOC president that Mr Einfeld headed an inquiry in 1987 into the living conditions of Aborigines on a former mission station at Toomelah, on the New South Wales/Queensland border.

He wept openly during the evidence of a woman whose son was forbidden from playing with a rugby ball, and was given an old shoe instead.

An Aboriginal elder from Toomelah, Madeline McGrady, was among those who provided glowing testimonials for Mr Einfeld. Ms McGrady told the New South Wales Supreme Court that he "gave our kids some hope and dreams that they too can go to school and wake up in the morning and have a decent shower".

Mr Einfeld's lawyer, Ian Barker, QC, argued that his client had been "a beacon of light" and "a man of honour".

He reminded the court that in 1997 Mr Einfeld had been named a "national living treasure".

A QC since 1977 and a judge for 15 years, Mr Einfeld, who retired in 2001 but continued to act in high-profile refugee cases, will serve a minimum of two years. He has been stripped of his QC title, faces action disbarring him from legal practice, and stands to lose his Order of Australia medal.