Flight From Paradise
Author: Vishal Lakshman
Law is a difficult task master and it is refreshing to see a book written by a senior crown prosecutor that seeks to disentangle the complexities and far from glamorous task of prosecuting criminal trials.
In his autobiographical Flight From Paradise Vishal Lakshman analyses some of the high-profile trials in which he was involved as a prosecutor over a thirty year career.
He devotes the first four chapters to his childhood in Fiji as the grandson of an indentured Indian. It is clear that while benefiting from a happy childhood, he remains understandably bitter about colonial rule in Fiji, pointing out that the Indians who went to Fiji were in effect slaves because they had signed an agreement which they could not read; were transported to Fiji and paid a pittance as labourers, and had no chance of accumulating enough money to ever leave the country.
The author’s father was exceptional. He was born in abject poverty but was intelligent and hard-working and managed to undertake studies in India in 1927. There he met both Gandhi and Nehru, joined them in the civil disobedience movement and marched with them in the Salt March in 1929. He was imprisoned, tortured and whipped. An attempt to retain his father in India to prohibit him from returning to Fiji resulted in an appeal to the British High Court. He won. His father became a leader in Fiji.
Lakshman describes his time in Fiji as hell on earth for the elders but paradise on earth for the children. His description is replete with amusing anecdotes of happy times.
At the age of 20 in June 1956 Lakshman, and his brother, were sent by his family to Brisbane Grammar School where the author became a prize-winning student. His name appears twice on the Honour Board in the Great Hall of the school.
In his adult life in Queensland he describes facing true racial prejudice, including coming close to being deported for having the gall to challenge a failure to be promoted. Having won his appeal with the help of Jim Killen and Dean Badeley, he was subsequently admitted to the Bar and worked for the Public Defender. In that office he was told that he would not be permitted to conduct trials in front of a jury because once a jury had seen him, there was no chance of an acquittal.
Undeterred he later became a crown prosecutor and describes in detail a few of the many successful prosecutions in which he was involved. Of particular interest at present is his description of the trial of the murderers of Noosa schoolgirl Sian Kingi.
Another of his trials involved a prosecution of a double murder where the only eyewitness to the murder of her mother was a child who was five at the time. At the time of the trial she was seven. Calling her as a witness involved very special preparation and treatment, not only by the crown prosecutor but also by the judge and counsel for the defence. The child did successfully give evidence which resulted in a conviction. The author believes that the child was the youngest to give evidence in a criminal trial in Queensland.
Lakshman writes in such a way that non lawyers on reading the book will gain an insight into the operation of the criminal law, the difficult decisions that have to be made by a crown prosecutor as well as a better understanding of the way a court works. The book will interest lawyers as well as non lawyers.
Throughout the work the author displays humility and never loses his sardonic sense of humour. I smiled many times. He has made a contribution to a greater understanding of the criminal justice system to which he himself made a significant contribution.
This book is definitely worth reading. It is available from Amazon.