Australia to raise Boer War case with Britain

2011-10-21 07:24

Sydney – Australian attorney-general Robert McClelland said today that he would raise concerns about the fairness of the 1902 court martial of Boer War fighter Harry “Breaker” Morant with the British government.

Morant was executed by firing squad, along with fellow Australian soldier Peter Handcock, over the killing of a group of Boer prisoners, but more than a century later questions are still raised over whether they had a fair trial.

“The competing assertions still evoke considerable emotion even to this day,” McClelland said, adding that the case involved complex questions of law and historical evidence.

“I have been persuaded that this case does raise procedural fairness concerns. This is of particular interest to me because fair and proper process is at the heart of our justice system.”

McClelland said he would write to the British government to ensure it was aware that questions existed as to whether the men received fair judicial treatment, in accordance with the standards accepted at the time.

Last year British legislators rejected a call from Australian MPs for an official pardon for Morant, whose story has become a cause célèbre and formed the basis of the movie “Breaker Morant”, starring the late Edward Woodward.

Military historian James Unkles has taken up the case, arguing that Morant did not receive a fair trial over the killing of 12 prisoners of war and that he and his co-accused were denied the right to prepare their cases.

He has also cited allegations that British military commander Lord Kitchener, the mustachioed face of the famous “Your Country Needs You” World War 1 recruitment poster, issued secret orders to shoot Boer prisoners.

But Ashley Ekins, a historian who heads the Australian War Memorial, a government body, has said the soldiers were found guilty of “cold-blooded murder” in a process consistent with military justice of the time.

Morant, a horse-breaker and sometime poet, volunteered to fight with the British against Boer settlers during the 1899-1902 war that established colonies that eventually formed part of South Africa.

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