In 2003 Robert Fardon was the first prisoner to be detained under the Dangerous Prisoners (Sexual Offenders) Act 2003 (Qld), the first of the new generation preventive detention laws enacted in Australia and directed at keeping sex offenders in prison or under supervision beyond the expiry of their sentences where a court decides, on the basis of psychiatric assessments, that unconditional release would create an unacceptable risk to the community. A careful examination of Fardon’s case shows the extent to which the administration of the regime was from the outset governed by politics and political calculation rather than the logic of risk management and community protection.
In 2003 Robert Fardon was the first person detained under the Dangerous Prisoners (Sexual Offenders) Act 2003 (Qld) (hereafter DPSOA), a newly enacted Queensland law aimed at the preventive detention of sex offenders. It was the first of a new generation of such laws introduced in Australia, now also in force in NSW, Western Australia and Victoria. The laws have been widely criticized by lawyers, academics and others (Keyzer and McSherry 2009; Edgely 2007). In this article I want to focus on the details of how the Queensland law was administered in Fardon’s case, he being perhaps the most well-known prisoner detained under such laws and certainly the longest held. It will show, I hope, that seemingly abstract rule of law principles invoked by other critics are not simply abstract: they afford a crucial practical safeguard against the corruption of criminal justice in which the ends both of community protection and of justice give way to opportunistic exploitation of ‘the mythic resonance of crime and punishment for electoral purposes’ (Scheingold 1998: 888).