The Porter case unfolds as classic Greek tragedy

The ‘facts’ of the case are that Katharine Thornton accused Christian Porter of a sustained and violent sexual assault, over an extended period of time, on one night in 1988. There were no witnesses, and there is no supporting forensic evidence. So it really is a case of “she said, he said”.

There can never be a criminal trial, because the alleged victim is deceased. That is because the accusations can not be tested, in court. Under our system of criminal law, the facts have to be proved, beyond reasonable doubt. Without the accuser, the case against Christian Porter is too weak to proceed.

There are only two possibilities here. He did it, or he did not. The law is an imperfect instrument, and especially under our system, if a case cannot be proved, then the truth of the matter remains unresolved.

The same situation applies to any form of enquiry. We can hold one, but it will not prove anything. It might serve as window dressing, but there were only two people who knew the truth of the matter, and one of them has died, and the other one has denied it.

This case has already divided the country, and in many aspects it is reminiscent of the Lindy Chamberlain case. The public didn’t like her then, and they decided that she was guilty, notwithstanding the weakness of the case against her.

Christian Porter is in a similar position. He has many detractors, and sections of the public have apparently made up their minds as to his culpability. However, if he is not able to be convicted then he is nominally free to continue his life. And he has vehemently denied the accusation.

That is where this Greek tragedy unfolds. If he did commit the atrocious crimes he is accused of, he is already being punished. His political life will probably wither and die, and he will carry the taint of his ‘crimes’ for the rest of his life. He will suffer the worst of punishments, a form of banishment from his peers; his family, even his children will be affected. The shame of the accusation will never leave him.

If he did not commit the crimes he is accused of, the punishment remains the same; but he will bear the added burden of knowing that he was innocent. For those who think Christian Porter has ‘got away’ with something, think again. He is damned if he did, and damned if he didn’t.

The other question is about Katharine Thornton. My strong inclination is to believe women who report rapes, because it is highly unlikely that they do so mistakenly, or even maliciously. It is a profound and courageous act to report your own rape, and so many victims speak of the re-traumatisation which occurs when they do. Believing rape victims in all cases is not foolproof, however, and so there is a possibility that Katharine Thornton was wrong, or malicious in her reporting. Whatever the truth, she paid with her life.

There is no way to be absolutely certain of the facts, because we cannot test either story. Katharine Thornton obviously suffered very much, for many years, and she has died as a seeming result of that suffering. But we cannot, with absolute certainty, blame Christian Porter, for her pain.

Christian Porter’s personality is not proof of criminal behaviour. He projects a born-to-rule persona, and a patrician disdain for his opponents. His political method is merciless, and many in the legal community condemn his seeming lack of compassion for those less favoured by fate.

He offends many, and his personal history has not shone a kindly light on his attitudes to women, but questions of his likeability do not prove anything. His dilemma is that, even during what must be a distressing time for him, there is no movement to award him the ‘benefit of the doubt’. Perhaps he is seen as paying for his ‘hubris’.

The Prime Minister has engaged in Olympic-standard fence-sitting, which allows him wriggle room, depending on how the court of public opinion decides. His responses are almost always political, and the political and the legal worlds are simply too small, and too self-interested, to deal with a human tragedy of this scale. Porter is on his own.

No matter where the truth lies, there are no winners in this tragedy.

8 thoughts on “The Porter case unfolds as classic Greek tragedy

  1. I fully admit I do not like Porter or the privileged and entitled class he comes from. I also have no firm idea if he did or didn’t but for the PM to defend him so vigorously is to make this completely political. Porter is not the greatest legal brain in Australia and should be stood aside immediately as not fit for purpose or stand aside himself which I doubt he will do as that is not in his lexicon. The PM’s action in not even consulting his own Solicitor – General makes me think they will tough it out whatever the consequences but my hope is that in doing so the political capital lost will result in a very long spell in the Opposition benches for this wretched dogma-driven cabal masquerading as government !!

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  2. I followed your reasoning until the end and was left with asking “What if Katherine Thornton were still alive to press her charges/allegations”? We would still have “He said; She said” since there was not a third witness, or more). The only difference is that it could be tested in a criminal court hearing, but again with no more certainty of the actual truth being settled, as to who did what to whom.
    The other matter is one’s reputation. Hers is not clear, or has not been openly discussed like his. His is much clearer and should be the basis of arriving and some form of judgement, beyond liking or disliking the person. The matter of “degree of likelihood” can properly be tested in some way. Certainty, or sufficient certainty to “condemn” cannot be reached.

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  3. If the accusations against Porter “cannot be tested” simply because the complainant has died, how do we handle murder allegations, where the victim is most certainly dead?

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      1. The child’s absence, and her young age would rule out her leaving on her own. No-one else presented as a suspect, so they suspected the parents. Azaria’s being lost would lead to a presumption of death. Whether caused by dingoes or not, death was presumed, and the parents could not explain why there was not a body. So they presumed that the body was taken into the bush and buried. Being taken by dingoes was considered far-fetched, although it proved to be correct.

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    1. Or, to complete the Chamberlain analogy, murder – where the only other eye witness’s body is not found?

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    2. The dead body is probably the proof that a crime occurred. Sometimes they lay a charge where there is no body, but a strong presumption of death. Then matters such as the accused’s relationship with the deceased, his or her past behaviour; violent history might be used to build a reasonable case, which might be successful. The committal usually establishes if there is a reasonable chance of conviction, on the available evidence. With a rape, there may be NO proof that the crime happened, at all. Without witnesses, or forensic evidence, (dna etc,) or a criminal history the prosecution would not proceed, as there is no reasonable possibility of conviction. Throw in the fact that the NSW Police Commissioner is a Liberal stooge, no case to answer. He is rumoured to be in line for Craig Kelly’s seat at the next election.

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