Sue Neill-Fraser – video flashback

There are very substantial doubts about this case … the evidence is so weak …. it is hard to see how any conviction could stand … Tasmania’s legal system risks being a laughing stock, if it wasn’t such a tragedy. The words of Chester Porter QC on the Sue Neill-Fraser case.

Chester Porter QC and Stuart Tipple – both key players in the notorious Lindy Chamberlain miscarriage of justice – were part of the panel discussion* at the only Sydney screening (Chauvel, November 5, 2013), of Shadow of Doubt, Eve Ash’s award winning documentary about the flawed investigation that led to Sue Neill-Fraser’s conviction for the murder of her partner, Bob Chappell.   Continue reading

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Prosecutorial immunity in the hands of psychopaths? A case study

By Andrew L. Urban.

Small time crim John Thompson was nearly executed for a murder he didn’t commit. At his trial in 1985, the New Orleans prosecutors had withheld exculpatory evidence. Then District Attorney – Harry Connick Snr (now retired) – brags about the aggressive, win at all costs culture in his office.

In this New Yorker podcast, we hear him confirm his office is there to get convictions: “that’s what we do”. He chuckles as he recalls that “a lot of defendants weren’t happy with what we were doing,” shrugging off their concerns: “we weren’t there for them – we’re there for those who elected us”. Thompson (below) knows that all too well.

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A law unto themselves, absent model principles

Bill Rowlings* questions how ‘professional’ is the Legal Profession Board of Tasmania. It’s a quango that only recently worked out it needs to abide by model litigant principles, a decade after it was created. And it seems to particularly dislike the right of people to question, scrutinise and dissent.

Barbara Etter** is a lawyer who has been contesting complaints against her that are being investigated by the Legal Profession Board.

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Sue Neill-Fraser – re-reporting from court

By Andrew L. Urban

In her long running appeal against her 2010 murder conviction, Hobart grandmother Sue Neill-Fraser is finding new obstacles, compounded by inaccurate reporting: a fellow prisoner, Stephen Gleeson, has been charged with perverting justice (in her favour). After his hearing on March 23, 2018, the ABC’s Edith Bevan reported that prosecutor “Mr Shapiro told the court Gleeson had a number of visitors to Risdon Prison during 2017. They included Neill-Fraser’s then lawyer Barbara Etter, filmmaker Eve Ash, private detective Colin McLaren and lawyer Jeffrey Thompson.”

Eve Ash wrote to Bevin pointing out that she had never met Gleeson, never visited him in prison. Bevan didn’t reply, but her report on the ABC website was changed to: “Mr Shapiro told the court Gleeson had a number of visitors to Risdon Prison during 2017. They included Neill-Fraser’s then lawyer Barbara Etter, private detective Colin McLaren and lawyer Jeffrey Thompson. Mr Shapiro told the court the private detective was working for documentary filmmaker Eve Ash. Ash did not personally visit Gleeson in prison.”

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Time to end prosecutorial immunity

By Frederick Block *

JABBAR COLLINS languished in jail for over 16 years for a murder he apparently never committed. He was only freed a few years ago when it was revealed at a post-conviction hearing that the main witness at his trial had told the prosecutor that he was pressured by police to lie about Collins’ involvement in the murder.

The prosecutor, representing the Brooklyn District Attorney’s office, never shared that information with Collins’ lawyer—an egregious violation of the law, which requires the government to inform the defense of any exculpatory evidence. At the hearing, the judge who tossed out Collins’ conviction called the conduct of the prosecutor and the DA’s office “shameful” and a “tragedy.”

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Australian democracy not always by the ‘rule of law’

By Andrew L. Urban

In the context of the immigration debate Australia’s Prime Minister (and lawyer of renown), recently extolled the virtues of Australian democracy and its adherence to the ‘rule of law principles’, yet “the criminal appeal system in Australia has failed to comply with its obligations to apply the rule of law,” according to two legal academics, Associate Professor Bibi Sangha and Dr Robert Moles, both of Flinders University, who are calling for an inquiry into ‘abuse of process’ in the system.

“The requirement to ensure that persons accused of criminal offences receive a fair trial and that they also have the right to an effective appeal would hardly be contentious,” they say in a joint statement which claims that Australia is failing its human rights obligations “contained in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights which Australia ratified in 1980.”

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Sue Neill-Fraser prosecutor Ellis replies to journalist

Andrew L. Urban

Tim Ellis SC, then Tasmania’s DPP and the man who prosecuted Sue Neill-Fraser in 2010 for murder, addressed several aspects of his prosecution – in public. It’s rare that a prosecutor speaks in detail publicly about one of his cases – especially one that is contentious. It is instructive to revisit parts of that email exchange now, three years later.

In Tasmanian Times, May 5, 2015, Tim Ellis published an email exchange between journalist Susan Horburgh of the Australian Women’s Weekly and himself, in preparation for an article she was writing about the Sue Neill-Fraser case.  (It was published on July 27, 2015.) Horsburgh put some questions to Ellis; here is an extract from their exchange, together with relevant extracts from the trial transcript.

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Sue Neill-Fraser: winds of change favour Four Winds

By Andrew L. Urban

A sensational late summer day in Hobart on Wednesday, March 7, 2018 – which I spent on a yacht on the Derwent thanks to my brother and sister in law – can in hindsight be seen as a positive omen in the Sue Neill-Fraser case. The sun shone its light into the darkness of a case that has divided Tasmanians and perplexed mainlanders who had heard of it. It was yet another hearing in her quest for leave to appeal her 2010 murder conviction under (relatively) new legislation. (Hearing continues, adjourned to June 26, 2018.)

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Sue Neill-Fraser – latest appeal hearing dates (March 2018)

By Andrew L. Urban

Delays for a variety of reasons have stretched the time-line in the latest Sue Neill-Fraser appeal, since the first directions hearing, which was almost exactly a year after the relevant legislation was passed, two and a half years ago.

A winching expert witness (for Neill-Fraser) was unavailable to attend the hearings in October 2017. Since then, police have stated they have new and ‘substantial’ evidence and would call four new witnesses, in addition to cross-examining Detective Shane Sinnitt. It is understood the Crown intends to tender recordings the police seized earlier, through Detective Sinnitt during cross-examination. The footage is for a Seven Network true crime series.

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‘Learned friends’ learn little from errors

Andrew L. Urban

What went wrong? That’s the question that the criminal justice system does not often ask and therefore doesn’t answer when wrongful convictions are revealed.

 

Prevention is so much better than cure, especially in a legal system which deprives the convicted of resources and the voice to be heard. The resistance to learning from mistakes prior to trial is compounded by a resistance to correct them post conviction.

There is no self correcting mechanism in the criminal justice system, other than an imperfect, slow and combersome appellate process; there is no equivalent to consumer protection that is obligatory elsewhere. Keith A Findlay, co-founder of the Wisconsin Innocence Project argues this very clearly in ‘Learning from our Mistakes’:

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