You will have received an invitation from Barbara Etter APM to the only Sydney screening of Shadow of Doubt (Nov. 5, 6.30pm, Chauvel Cinema, Paddington), the award winning 80 minute documentary by Melbourne filmmaker Eve Ash exploring the murder conviction of Sue Neill-Fraser. The screening will be followed by a discussion which I will moderate, involving Chester Porter QC, Barbara Etter APM and filmmaker Eve Ash. The audience will include invited guests with a special interest in our justice system viz its failure to correct miscarriages of justice, which is a distinct possibility in the case of Sue Neill-Fraser as explored in Shadow of Doubt.
It is in this broader context that I respectfully urge you to engage with the matter, namely the need for a body along the lines of a Criminal Cases Review Commission (or equivalent) as exists in the UK and as you know, now even in South Australia.
While many legal bodies are in support of a national body of this nature, I suspect it will take vision, leadership and political will to bring it into existence. As we all understand – you as a trained legal practitioner especially – one of the fundamental pillars of democracy is an equitable and fully reliable justice system in which citizens can have complete confidence.
In the case of Lindy Chamberlain, I’m sure you’ll recall, it took several years and ultimately a Royal Commission to correct the serious miscarriage of justice. The case of Sue Neill-Fraser is alarmingly similar: no body has ever been found, no murder weapon presented to the court, no witnesses, no confession, imperfect investigation – and the circumstantial evidence (in my humble opinion) is weak. I mention this only as the case highlights the urgent need for national legislation to make it less likely that we convict and jail the innocent. (Hence the relevance of Chester Porter QC being on the panel, viz his role as Counsel Assisting on the Morling Royal Commission.)
It would be an historic reform to establish a platform for the review of convictions that are demonstrably unsafe – especially where serious crimes and severe sentences are involved, and which is not circumscribed by the adversarial and limited appellate processes (as in the Neill-Fraser case).
I believe our democracy needs constant vigilance to remain robust and just. The application of your high position as well as your intellect to give impetus to the creation of such a Commission would be significant and I urge you to champion this objective. It would be a signature achievement to strengthen our democracy of which you and the Australian people could be proud. Perhaps it is already under consideration by your Department; that would be most welcome news.
Andrew L. Urban