Barbara Etter – the facts

In view of recent interest in Sue Neill-Fraser’s former lawyer Barbara Etter APM, as expressed by readers in various comments, we publish the relevant facts about Etter’s withdrawal from her legal practice in mid 2018, and her statement at the time.

The following is an extract from an article by Bill Rowlings, CEO, Civil Liberties Australia (July 10, 2018).

The law defeats justice – again – in Australia’s deep south
The Full Court of the Supreme Court of Tasmania has effectively denied noted pro bono lawyer, Barbara Etter, her ability to be a member of the legal profession…on a technicality of legislation.

She will no longer practise law. She has “quit the profession”. She made the announcement (see below) after the Supreme Court dismissed her appeal against a ruling of the Legal Profession Board (LPB) of Tasmania. The ruling effectively ordered her to hand over the complete contents, gathered over many years, of her privileged communications with a client in a coroner’s court matter – the Greer case.

The LPB had already decided – after remarks by coroner Olivia McTaggart – that the LPB would not (repeat, not) proceed against Etter over the coroner’s disparaging comments.

But then one angry half of an inter-sibling dispute that was at the heart of the bitter coronial case made a personal complaint against Etter, who had represented the complainant’s sister. So the LPB effectively re-activated a complaint it had dismissed, and sooled its in-house investigator on to the case. The LPB investigator demanded the entire case file, that is all documents relating to the case.

Barbara Etter APM

So, the LPB dispute recently decided by the Supreme Court ended up being over whether or not Etter would hand over all the documents, hard and electronic, both legal and ‘isn’t it a lovely day’ emails, in her case file. The LPB would not step back, and ask for just the relevant files, probably because it had not closely assessed the new, personal complaint and decided what precise evidence was required from Etter. Anglers might comment that the LPB and its investigator had appeared to go fishing, using a drag net rather than a rod.

The LPB appears to have not equally demanded any proof of allegations, or files evidence, from the complainant.

In other words, this idiosyncratic Tasmania legal fiasco is finally finished…with nobody “winning”.  Certainly Etter has not been found guilty of any ‘professional misconduct’ as is normally in question in such lawyerly cases.

The LPB is a ‘kangaroo court’. The LPB’s own barrister, Chris Gunson, described its powers as ‘extreme’. It can stop a lawyer practising her or his profession instantly, without giving the person any chance to put their case before members of the board at a hearing of the LPB.

Etter was hauled before the board originally, some years ago, because someone from the local legal profession complained about her commenting in a TV interview that there was no relevant blood discovered by Tasmania Police forensic scientists in a dinghy. The blood, and whether there had been a body in it, was a key question in the alleged murder case involving Sue Neill-Fraser (SNF), for whom Etter was pro bono lawyer at the time, and for more than five years.

In a 2018 Supreme Court hearing on the SNF matter, Etter’s comments were backed up by a renowned forensic scientist, resulting in front page confirmation of her TV statement in The Mercury, Hobart’s daily newspaper.

 

 

 

Barbara Etter’s statement following the rejection of her appeal on July 9, 2018:

“I have at all times acted in the best interests of my client, in accordance with my understanding of administrative law, and what I considered to be the public interest.

 However, here in Tasmania it appears that there are too few checks and balances on the powers of the Legal Profession Board. I agree with the Board’s counsel that their powers may be viewed as “extreme”.

 I urge Parliament to take steps now to ensure that the proper checks and balances are imposed by amendments to the Legal Profession Act.  Should the Law Society wish to contribute to that debate then, of course, I am happy to share my experiences with them.

 If that does not happen then other lawyers of integrity will be subject to the harrowing and stressful experience that I have had since 2014, including the taking of actions which prevented me earning an income (despite no findings of misconduct), and involving expensive litigation.

 The result of this experience is that I have quit the profession. Fortunately I have my integrity, my wonderful partner and family, a network of good and supportive friends, and many other challenging, interesting, and rewarding tasks to keep me busy here in Tasmania.”​ July 9, 2018

NOTE 1: Her licence to practice had been suspended, not withdrawn. Ms Etter chose not to renew it.

NOTE 2: Sue Neill-Fraser was convicted of murdering her partner Bob Chappell on Australia Day 2009, on board their yacht, Four Winds. She has maintained her innocence. She has been granted leave to appeal (in March 2019) after a three year process in which then homeless 15 year old Meaghan Vass admitted she was a witness to the murder and Neill-Fraser was not involved. Vass’ DNA was found on the deck. Etter represented Neill-Fraser from 2012 to 2017.

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22 Responses to Barbara Etter – the facts

  1. Geraldine Allan says:

    Lola Moth, April 30, 2019 at 9:31 am, writes, “… When you suspect corruption in the group who are in charge of justice, …”

    Reliable knowledge enables me to go further than “suspect” — I know/verify from first-hand experience/direct evidence that there is “corruption in the group who are in charge [Tasmanian] of justice, …” and, it has been alive and flourishing for several decades, as I’ve watched on.

    It has been accurately demonstrated to that the Tasmanian modus-operandi is such that ‘we can’t let it get out that we got it wrong and/or stuffed-up’ thus the cover-up is the preferred choice.

    Notwithstanding, the Tasmanian citizens elected our representatives to speak for us on matters we raise. Thus,
    • where are the elected representatives’ very loud voices in this matter?
    • why has parliamentary silence prevailed?
    It seems to me the time is now overdue that we collectively and individually, ask our MP’s, both state & federal, where they stand on this matter, and their responses ought be made public.

  2. Robin bowles says:

    I would like to add that I personally interviewed and quoted Pauline Greer in my book, Death on the Derwent. She was full of praise for Barbara and her dogged representation during the inquest into the death of Sally Greer, Pauline’s mother, who was found in a shower recess stabbed 17 times with the knife still embedded in her neck. The legal finding was suicide. Go figure!

  3. Robin Bowles says:

    Barbara Etter was a great loss to the legal profession in Tasmania specifically and Australia generally. She stood up for what she believed in and, not being familiar with the Establishment way of doing things in Tasmania, she made many enemies. She is right in saying the LPBT has too much unfettered power. I agree. The LPBT can ruin a lawyer’s income, reputation and practising ability at will. Of course the DPP can do that too, just look at Jeff Thompson’s current predicament.
    I am pleased to report that Barbara, a highly intelligent, multi- talented person, has made a new life for herself utilising one of her many other skills and that whilst she might miss the law, she can hardly miss the outrageous way she was treated.

    • SH says:

      The undisputed fact is that Barbara Etter should not have had to ‘make a new life’ – what a loss! What a loss to the legal world, justic, truth, freedom etc, etc, etc…
      Shame on the LBPT & the DPP at the time…
      The emperor has no clothes…
      Tasmania, wake up! The emperor has no clothes!
      Who will speak up against this reign of terror against anyone who speaks up!

  4. Brian johnston says:

    I make the following post without prejudice.
    Innocent people going to gaol has been happening for centuries.
    Barbara Etter former West Australia Police Commissioner knows or ought to know all about this. I do not know Etter though have spoken with her.
    Bret Christian from Perth in his book Presumed Guilty details numerous cases of police corruption and innocents in gaol. A brilliant read.
    I wonder why when it appears Etter was in a position to do so she failed to bring about any meaningful changes.
    Etter became involved in the death of Rita Sally Green where it was determined that Rita committed suicide.
    Pauline Greer (Daughter) may have believed her mother was murdered and approached Etter
    It has been alleged that Etter encouraged/advised Pauline in her belief of murder and that Etter’s encouragement/advice was deemed ‘not professional’ and that Etter may have supported and encouraged a view that Rita’s husband may have been the murderer and that these matters led to the investigation into Etter. I am not sure. I read material along these lines years ago.
    I have no idea what is right or what is wrong though it may be useful for all this to be cleared up.
    It appears to me to be an unusual suicide. If it was murder I have no idea who committed it.
    The investigation into Etter may have commenced after Etter represented Sue Neill-Fraser.
    Etter may have been unfairly dealt with.

  5. Williambtm says:

    There was a case contested in Tasmania’s Supreme Court, the case consisted of a decision by the LPB to not issue a requisite license to an individual, to practice as a legal practitioner in this State of Tasmania.
    The LRB lost their case due to an Extreme Bias held by the grantees of such a license.
    The case was reported in a recognized archival case file repository, available to all and every interested party to access and review.
    Shortly thereafter a notice appeared that suggested that this matter was still undecided or in doubt.
    As at this present time, there is no longer any archival existence of this
    particular case.
    At no time forward is it wise nor in any way tenable, for anyone to allow their full trust to be given to Tasmania’s Judicial appointed Supreme Court Judges nor its Registrars.

    Let it be considered as a qualified given, is based on a number of Tasmanian Supreme Court decisions handed down, wherein I have closely examined, as well as my having been provided with an insight to the falsity of, or the non-presentation of exculpatory evidence to be provided to the Court.
    Often this kind of justice is practiced to the benefit of both Tasmania’s Guardianship Administrative Board hearings and Tasmania’s Public Trustees, each of these 2 (Authoritative State Government agencies and or any State Government Business Enterprises that has been legislated as not to be obliged to the………………………….. Laws of Evidence Act 2001 as amended to the date of 5th December 2018…….. See Act 56

    However, there are specific dangers to persons who seek the proper carriage of justice,
    how law court judges consider how he, she, or they, will address the Law of Evidence Act applicable. Note below further specifics available that may contradict the Tasmanian State’s unruly Laws of Evidence Act 2001.

    (Effective evidence: circa 2011)
    (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1991 – ACT Legislation …
    http://www8.austlii.edu.au/cgi-bin/viewdb/au/legis/tas/consol_act/ea200180/
    Giving and presenting evidence Chapter 2
    Witnesses Part 2.1
    Cross-examination Division 2.1.5
    read………………………………………………..Section 45 through to Section 47.

    • Gruntle Massey says:

      Are you saying the some of Tasmania’s statutory authorities are exempt from complying with the Evidence Act? Can you provide specific examples?

  6. PH says:

    I am lost for words, I cannot believe what I am still reading about the Justic system in Tasmania.
    Why the politicians of the day are not pressuring the Government to fix this, again I cannot understand.
    Release SNF to Home Detion would be a start until this Judicial mess is sorted out.
    People of Tasmania stand up and be counted . What has happened to people power in Tasmania, sorry I forgot Bob Brown has brought them up here to QLD to fix our Coal Pollution and climate warming

    • Diane Kemp says:

      The more I hear and read about the Justice system in Tasmania, the more I struggle to understand why no one is doing anything. If Tasmania cannot fix all these problems – and it appears they cannot and corruption goes through all levels, that is even more reason for an independent Royal Commission to come in over everyone to right this.
      Something appears to be very rotten in Tasmania and it isn’t the apples!!!!

      • SH says:

        Hear! Hear!
        Truer words have yet to be spoken!

      • Lola Moth says:

        Diane, the reason it seems like nobody is doing anything about the corruption in Tasmania is pretty simple. If we complain to the police that some of their members are corrupt, they tell us we are wrong. Case closed but our names and details are noted.
        If we complain to the courts that the police are corrupt, we are told that the police told the courts that they are not corrupt. Case closed but our names and details are noted.
        If we complain to the courts that the justice system is corrupt, we are told the whole system of police and the justice system is just fine and we are trouble makers. Case closed and all of our personal details noted, collated, investigated, and filed for a rainy day.
        If we complain to anyone outside of Tasmania that the whole state is corrupt, we are told it is a state matter and nobody can help us. Anyone who is wondering why Tasmanians are not out in the streets protesting should keep all of this in mind.

        • andrew says:

          Diane Kemp makes a valid point. It seems the legal system does not acknowledge that there are problems that need to be addressed in the administration of justice. The police, for example, have stated “We continue to have full confidence in both the original and current police investigators,” in respect of the Sue Neill-Fraser case. And when Civil Liberties Australia called for a Royal Commission, the State Government replied in a statement that a royal commission was not needed, and that the Government had full confidence in the Tasmanian legal system. Based on what, we wonder?

          • Lola Moth says:

            That is also my own point. When you suspect corruption in the group who are in charge of justice, then there is nobody for you to turn to. There is no independent oversight of justice in Tasmania because the system is interbred and outside interference is locked out. Stick your head above the parapet and you get it shot at.

            I experienced the legal system on the side of the supposed ‘good guys’ when I was younger and it frightened me so much I have hidden myself away from it for decades.

  7. tony says:

    It seems to me that there are people in high places within the legal system and not only the police that have a vested interest in the sue Frazer case and are ruthlessly stamping out anyone who is a witness or working on the case why is the federal system not taking any notice of these hillbillies in the Tasmanian court system as for the previous attorney general he came across as a total bonehead hope this one is a bit better?

  8. LB says:

    If Etter was accused of making “baseless allegations” deeming scrutiny by the TLPB then the same principles should apply to all legal practitioners surely?. If a legal professional repeatedly claims/suggests, before a court, that a wrench was used as a murder weapon when there was no body and no evidence of any weapon at all, then why is this not reviewed by the TLPB also ? (Refer to the Susan Neill – Fraser trial transcripts).

    • Gruntle Massey says:

      A court is a special closed arena for the testing of theories to elicit the truth. You cannot be charged with libel for statements you make in a court. The defence always has the immediate opportunity to object to and strike out a prosecutors statements that conflict with court rules. QC Gunson seems to have failed terribly in this regard at SNF’s trial.

      Politicians have a similar licence in Parliament.

      Statements made outside of these two arenas however can see you being brought to account in various ways.

      • andrew says:

        “testing of theories”? I prefer ‘testing of evidence’….

        • Roscoe says:

          Correct Andrew. Herein lies the problem. “Testing theories”, like the use of an imaginary wrench, against the “evidence” that the said wrench was not found at the crime scene, or elsewhere.
          I’m from Victoria and my understanding is that our Courts here are not ” a special closed arena” as suggested above. Unless required to be “in camera” they are very much open to the general public. For good reason.

          • Gruntle Massey says:

            OK, poor choice of words, but it is fairly ‘closed’ in the sense that it is a restricted area where slander and defamation have no grip. It’s a place where allegations are made and then they are tested. Public access is limited and for observation only. Recording devices are not allowed. The concept being “what is said in court, stays in court” as far as the greater public is concerned whilst a trial is underway.

          • Robin Bowles says:

            Sorry Roscoe, I don’t agree with your comment about transparency in the Victorian courts. Victoria has by far the highest rate of suppression orders than any other Australian court. This means a person, be they journos, writers like me, members of the public can go and sit in to listen to a suppressed case. But if we then talk about it, or write about it, we are in contempt and can be charged. And often are. In my view the courts are a ‘special closed arena‘ , open to the valiant knights of the legal profession to take aim at each other and open for people to go and watch. But not to discuss subsequently!

          • andrew says:

            Quite irrational, isn’t it. And of another age, before mass communication.

          • John Spoth says:

            Most of us can’t be in Courts so we’re not aware of what goes on in them. Limiting reporting and recording of what’s said in Court is akin to gagging most of us from what was used to reach verdicts. I believe modern recordings (not just written transcripts) should be kept of all Court cases in order to review evidence etc, especially for use by juries as memories alone aren’t accurate enough. If Justice isn’t seen to be open, it’s then open to questions. There shouldn’t be anything to hide, should there. The biggest flaw of the system is human limitations of memory, assessment and rational thinking. Lawyers, judges and juries are not scientific and therefore subject to bias and coloured opinions, not to mention human imagination when we interperate information (we ‘filter’ what we hear).

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