Almanac Tribunal Comment: Showing the Instruments

In 2012, Steve Johnson was given a lesson on practical justice by the MRP for what was deemed an indiscretion concerning Dan Hannebery.


Anson Cameron responded with this observation which seems just as relevant today.


A garden-variety Spanish tickler.







During the Spanish Inquisition priests trying to get people to confess to being witches and blasphemers used torture, which they categorized into different degrees. The first degree of torture was called Showing the Instruments. Realizing their best weapon was terror the priests paraded horrific devices before their captives, explaining their usage.


The rack, the rat, the Pear of Anguish, the Head Crusher, The Spanish Tickler… few could look on these tools for torture, covered as they were in the blood of previous victims, without being overwhelmed by fear. Most would confess to any blasphemies the fevered minds of the priests could concoct. Yes, Padre, I am a witch who swallowed a nun whole. Just don’t touch me with the Spanish Tickler.


The Americans, always rapid to adopt barbarisms in the name of efficiency, updated the Spanish practice of Showing The Instruments by incorporating a legal device called the Plea Bargain into their judicial system. (Bear with me, we are coming to sport. Shortly we will meet The Inquisitors of the AFL Match Review Panel.)


The Plea Bargain goes like this: a woman has been murdered, the cops pick up some nearby loiterer to whom a skerrick of incrimination may or may not cling, and they offer him a deal. Son, you ever seen someone fried? Smells like a barbecue. Forehead goes crispy as pork cracklin. Teeth clamp until they shatter. Now, son, if you take us on in court you will be convicted and you will fry. (That right there is Showing the Instruments) But if you admit you done this thing, son, we’ll let you off with only twenty-five years. You could be out by the time you’re fifty.


          The prisons of the southern states in America are filled with men who have seen the Instruments, whiffed the pork crackling as it were, and been offered a plea bargain. If one was to do a profile of them, one could say they were typically black, poor, uneducated, of low IQ, and couldn’t afford good law. DNA frequently proves long-term prisoners there innocent. When asked why they pleaded guilty they say it was the fear of frying. The Plea Bargain is not there to enhance justice. It exists to unclog the courts, to sidestep the judicial process, to make redundant the slow tread of justice.


The AFL Tribunal runs a similar system. Whether you think Steve Johnson (Paddy Dangerfield) deserves a week for his shoulder-check (tackle) on Dan Hannebery (Matthew Kreuzer) or not isn’t the point. The MRP have just found him guilty and given him a two-week ban, reduced to one if he pleads guilty. That’s a plea-bargain right there, disguised as benevolence. If they are saying it’s worth two, justice says they should give him two. If they’re saying it’s worth one, why give him an extra match for appealing?


If you want to continue to plead your innocence, the MRP is saying, you risk missing a Semi Final against Sydney or Adelaide as well as an Elimination Final against Freo. You smell the pork crackling, Stevie? You could be out in twenty-five.


So let’s say Stevie J feels that in their report the MRP missed a vital piece of biomechanical evidence, or a valid vindication of his action wasn’t weighed. He is bound to go and front the Tribunal, isn’t he? On principle. Well, no. Not with a Semi at stake. You can price justice out of the market. The AFL judiciary have done it. If the Tribunal doesn’t see it your way on appeal your penalty is doubled.


Now, whatever spin the AFL likes to put on this, the second week is not a penalty for the original on-field sin, it’s for having the temerity to stand up for what you believe to be the truth. This doubling of a penalty at appeal, then, is not an instrument to advance justice. It is a device to expedite conviction. The threat of a doubled penalty is not to grease the wheels of justice… it’s to circumvent justice altogether. It could be said to be punishment for ruining the otherwise peaceful Tuesday evenings of tribunal members.


Fear of the chair and the needle puts innocent men in jail in The South. The fear of missing a Semi Final leaves Stevie J in the stands for the Elimination Final. A small, pale echo of that Southern injustice, but the same cynical use of a judicial system.


There should be no penalty for taking a verdict to appeal. It is against natural justice, makes a mockery of your appeal system, and would be in danger of making a mockery of the AFL judiciary if that state weren’t serially self-inflicted.



Anson Cameron.


  1. Dave Brown says

    Yep, spot on. Little to do with justice but plenty to do with expedience. Let alone the fact that it would be interesting to see such a case tested before the tribunal (were its proceedings public), such are the differing opinions about the tackle in social media world.

  2. Redistributive justice. He had it coming. For being a turncoat. For being a smart arse. For being …………so bloody good.
    Bill Shorten, Bernie Sanders and Jeremy Corbin would approve. Tax the rich. Share the Brownlows around. Cats fans have had enough success for this lifetime.
    Bugger meritocracy. This is AFL Stalinism. You know it makes sense.

  3. Hey, are we missing the point here? The Moo’s Creel Moggies pinned Krueger’s arms to his side and slung him the ground head first. Guilty as filmed Your Honour. (apparently all three blind mice missed it on the day, and no free was awarded, but that’s another story) For my part, I was praying he’d appeal and miss the match against The Tigers the following week, but Dusty will just have to show him how it’s done personally now.

    And while we’re at it, the minute they drop fairest from the Brownlow qualification is the minute The Game sells its soul.

    Furthermore, for all those drips who want extra time to settle a Home & Away drawn match, suck it up. A draw is a result. Those Adelaide players were over the moon with the salvaged 2 points against Collingwood. But then they do come from a city that ignites flares during their home games.

  4. Stainless says

    100% with you Wrap.
    Anson writes like a charm but this is mellifluous tosh, then and now, motivated solely by blue and white-hooped angst.
    The MRP and the early plea system is an efficient way to deal with the vast majority of indiscretions with minimal fuss. Mostly clubs and players accept their whack (which is usually less than the full penalty) and they are always at liberty to challenge any MRP decision.
    And please let’s cut the Spanish Inquisition nonsense. These are not trumped up charges. Everyone saw what Dangerfield did and the consequences. Nor is the early plea offer anything like “showing the instruments”. Geelong had every opportunity to fight the charge and had an army of legal experts pore over it. They elected not to – their choice. As a result, Paddy got off with half the penalty he would otherwise have got.
    And I’m with you about the draw too.

  5. Methinks Sir Wrap and Stainless the Shiny are off to the Crusades at Barwonside before the fortnight ends.

  6. Stainless says

    Methinks that before the fortnight ends Sir Paddy the Perfect will demonstrate in spades the benefits of a week’s surfing leave and not being distracted by personal trinkets in his pursuit of the Holy Grail!
    You read it here first!

  7. Dave Brown says

    I have no interest in the preservation of the Paddy (FWIW I think he should’ve got shopped for it – he had the arms pinned and continued the tackle after seeing Kreuzer had disposed of the footy, leading the head to the ground. The very definition of careless) and think that they generally tend to get a pretty good run with the MRP (see J. Selwood gouging one face and breaking a cheekbone with a careless high hit the week before and not even appearing in the MRP summary).

    But as a matter of first principles a system that applies a discount for not contesting a charge is fundamentally unjust. Even if we accept the system for its efficiency, it is worth recognising its foundation for what it is.

  8. Wrap/Stainless, if I may speak for the mellifluous tosser for a moment, he’s not saying they’re trumped up charges. Danger probably should do a week. Forget Danger. Why are you two always rabbiting on about Danger?
    But “their whack”, as you call it Stainless, isn’t less than the full penalty. It is the penalty… dressed up as discounted penalty so the tribunal can punish you for contesting it. “Discount” is semantics. The process is a con. It is a plea bargain. Cop to this and you save yourself the chance of that. The plea bargain manifestly skews natural justice in favour of the prosecutor.
    You say Geelong had an opportunity to appeal. True… ish. That’s because a judicial system with no appeal process would be easy for lawyers to bring down. Instead it cunningly prices all but a few rare appeals out of the market. THIS IS THE POINT OF THE MELLIFLUOUS TOSH!! (I think. Having read it a couple of times now.)

  9. ajc – I agree with you entirely and feel enormous sorrow for you – a person trying to apply logic, clear-thinking and intellect to the Tribunal system. And to the justice system more broadly!! You poor sod. That’s like trying to understand Salvador Dali.

  10. Thanks Dips. Dali is best viewed through the bottom of a bottle of gin.

  11. Stainless says

    1. Your illustration of the Spanish Inquisition was about trumped up charges and using fear to browbeat victims into guilty pleas. Using exaggeration as a means of persuasion is a powerful rhetorical tool but not necessarily a logical one.
    2. I’m not rabbiting on about Danger. The article was re-posted the day after Geelong elected not to fight his charge. Coincidence?
    3. I’m no lawyer but I’m pretty sure that most judicial systems allow for reduced penalties for pleading guilty. Under a no early plea system, “the whack” in this case would be two weeks as stated.
    4. For me, a far more persuasive argument about natural justice in this type of case would be about the malicious intent (I don’t think there was any) and the principle of punishment according to consequences rather than intent. All that “grey areas” stuff that Geelong could have argued – if they’d chosen to have a go.
    5. BTW – I mean that first bit about your writing before I started on the “mellifluous” line :)

  12. “‘Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition! Our chief weapon is surprise… surprise and fear… fear and surprise… our two weapons are fear and surprise… and ruthless efficiency… Our three weapons are fear, surprise, and ruthless efficiency… and an almost fanatical devotion to the Pope…”, Gillon noted approvingly.

  13. An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth and anyway I told the truth and I’m not afraid to die.

    Comparing footy tribunal to the Spanish Inquisition is almost Pythonesque.

    The Hodge judgement, now that was criminal. If that had been the basis of your thesis this fair minded footy fan would have joined your march.

  14. Punx..and the rest of it ... Pete says

    Ironically enough, Matt Kreuzer hobbled off the ground after Dangerfield’s tackle like he’d just been maimed by a Spanish tickler

  15. Stainless, thanks.
    I was joking about you rabbiting on about Danger. Of course it’s his case that brought this up again. But my point is about the appeals process not the case.
    Rick K, Cave is a massive Cats fan.
    Peter B, that word “almost” will be keeping Gillon up nights.

  16. The entire reporting/ MRP/ Appeals system is a farce.

    1. If the Appeals board is chaired by a legal eagle, why does the MRP consist only of ex-players?
    2. There is no consistency, rhyme or reason to the MRP’s decisions and/or non-decisions: witness Selwood’s deliberate forearm to the head of Sam Mitchell – so much for the head being “sacrosanct” (their word not mine), and Martin’s fist to the face of the unfortunate young Lion (not sufficient force – despite the head being “sacrosanct”). All of a sudden Dangerfield cops it.
    3. Agree with your point about the danger (sorry) inherent in appealing, ajc. It is a subversion of natural justice.

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