In the 2010 trial of Sue Neill-Fraser, there was an absence of evidentiary proof for establishing the Major Premise of the crime – an essential fact for a valid inference of guilt, writes BENJAMIN DEAN,* in this 3-part analysis of the case applying formal logic#. Part 1- no proof of death
SUE NEILL-FRASER, now entering her 12th year of incarceration, has been granted the Right to Appeal her 2010 conviction for having murdered her partner Bob Chappell, on the couple’s moored yacht, on Australia Day 2009. (The appeal hearing has been delayed due to COVID19 travel restrictions.) Three judges will evaluate whether ‘new and compelling evidence’ proves a Miscarriage of Justice.
However, what remains compelling about the conviction of Sue Neill-Fraser is that the guilty verdict contradicts the rules for a valid inference in formal logic. And since a contradiction renders the conclusion false, the State of Tasmania neither recognised the essential premises necessary to validly infer guilt in this trial, nor presented the necessary evidence for establishing these essential facts. And by convicting Sue Neill-Fraser, the State of Tasmania, has effectively abandoned the democratic obligations to the principles of equality in law, in a nation that is a signatory to UN Convention on Human Rights.
no proof of death
In August 2009, when the Tasmania Police, with the endorsement of the Director of Public Prosecutions, charged and remanded Sue Neill-Fraser for murdering her partner Bob Chappell, the State of Tasmania held insufficient evidence, as revealed at the October 2010 trial, to establish whether Bob Chappell was dead, let alone prove with evidence his manner of death as murder. That is, there was an absence of evidentiary proof for establishing the Major Premise of the crime – an essential fact for a valid inference of guilt.
In contrast to the trial transcript in which the words murder/s/er/ing/ed and kill/er/ing appear some 350 times, the Crown presented to the jury, no body, no eyewitnesses to a murder, no confession, no murder weapon, no established motive, and no forensic evidence that could rationally eliminate all competing hypotheses for establishing why Bob Chappell had disappeared from the Four Winds yacht, on Australia Day 2009. As expressed by legal academic, Dr Robert Moles of Flinders University, there was “…no compelling evidence to show that Bob Chappell is dead, let alone murdered”1.
In explaining this absence of evidence for establishing the Major Premise of the charge to which Sue Neill-Fraser was Commanded by Authority to answer, the former Crown Prosecutor, Tim Ellis SC, in the July 27, 2015, edition of the Australian Women’s Weekly, suggested; “It was not and is not essential to the valid conviction of Ms Neill-Fraser that the prosecution produce a murder weapon or prove a manner of death”.
However, the Crown Prosecution’s appeal for validity to support this conviction, contradicts formal logic, namely the rule for a valid inference modus ponens (if p, then q). Whereby, one fact as the Major Premise (p) MUST be proven with sufficient evidence as true, before it is rational to infer another fact to know if ANY perpetrator (q) exists, as a rational conclusion. That is, to know whether or not, ANY Perpetrator/s (q) exists, the truth value of this fact is logically conditional on whether the premise of the crime (p), has been established with sufficient evidence (or not).
In the absence of evidence to know if Bob Chappell is dead, let alone murdered, then ALL people are innocent is the valid conclusion in formal logic.
The result being that the charge and remand of Sue Neill-Fraser in August 2009 was arbitrary because it lacked a valid reason, by contradicting the rule modus ponens, and therefore was not rationally possible for the Tasmania Police, or the DPP to logically know the existence of ANY perpetrator to the crime of murder. The action violated Article 9 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. The Burden of Proof, could not logically be met by modus ponens, and therefore no valid reason existed for arresting Sue Neill-Fraser (or ANYONE) for the murder of Bob Chappell in August 2009.
The Tasmania Police investigation was deficient and lacked sufficient evidence necessary to establish the major Premise for the Crime, albeit Tasmania’s justice system remains satisfied with a 23 year sentence for Sue Neill-Fraser, to a crime yet to be established in evidence.
Consequently, what is compelling (in a bad way), is that the conviction of Sue Neill-Fraser has effectively normalised a legal process in the State of Tasmania, in which the premises necessary to validly infer guilt, are now being considered not necessary to be established in evidence in criminal cases, by either the Tasmania Police nor the Tasmanian Courts.
How are people equal before the court, if the standard of proving guilt Beyond a Reasonable Doubt, is accepted by the Court, but at the same time inherently doubtful due to the contradiction to the most basic of rules for a valid inference in formal logic.
How is the standard for the presumption of innocence being upheld by the State of Tasmania, if a crime is not required to be established with evidence? It is rationally not a fair court, if anyone can be sentenced to imprisonment, for a specific crime, yet to be established in evidence? Reason, it appears, is not available as a defence to those defending a criminal charge in Tasmania’s Courts.
logic as necessary standard
This case dictates an urgent need for overhauling Tasmania’s legal system. When Nicholas Cowdery QC, the former NSW director of public prosecutions, gave reasons not to prosecute Chris Dawson for the murder of Lyn Dawson2, and those reasons logically contradict the Tasmania DPP decision to prosecute Sue Neill-Faser, then Australian Law is in need of adopting an explicit model of logic as a necessary standard to justify decisions as rational, and not based simply on belief. While the Tasmanian Government continues to waste this crisis by expressing full confidence in the State Legal System, they are complicit in the continued violation of fundamental Human Rights, allowing the propagating of these errors in other Tasmanian criminal trials, which is effectively undermining Australia as a legitimate democracy.
# Formal Logic can be described as the science for a valid inference, and Aristotle is generally considered the Founding Father. Formal logic has traditionally focused on deductive (either true or false) reasoning. Validity is related to the structure or form of an argument, and not concerned about the content/premises of the argument form. In an argument, if the content (or premises) are true statements, and the form is valid, then the argument is considered sound, and the conclusion can be guaranteed true. Without this mathematical precision in formal logic, modern computing could not exist.
* Benjamin Dean observed this trial at the Supreme Court of Tasmania in October 2010 and has followed the case ever since. He has a BSc, having studied the natural sciences and computing. He has a strong philosophical interest in cultural epistemology, and its evolutionary advantage.
- Dr Robert N Moles ACII (UK) LLB (Hons) (Belf) PhD (Edin), Adjunct Principal Researcher, College of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences, Flinders University, South Australia. – review of Shadow of Doubt, 16 July 2013 – Bob Moles’ review Shadow of Doubt[Sue Neill-Fraser case, Tasmania] “ … no compelling evidence to show that Bob Chappell is dead, let alone murdered. “ p1. Accessed 24/08/20.
- Nicholas Cowdery QC, former NSW director of public prosecutions, giving reasons to not prosecute Chris Dawson for the murder of Lyn Dawson. “Without a body, without knowing first of all whether in fact she is dead, without knowing secondly if she is dead, how she died, it’s very hard to mount a case of a reasonable prospect of conviction just on motive and the undefined existence of means and opportunity. That makes it very weak,” https://mobile.abc.net.au/news/2018-09-10/australian-story-who-killed-lyn-dawson/10213690?pfmredir=sm&nw=0 accessed 24/08/20
Part 2 will be published on Friday, September 4, 2020
Part 3 will be published on Sunday, September 6, 2020
ED: FORMAL LOGIC AND ROBERT XIE CONVICTION
There is a disturbing parallel to this in NSW with the Robert Xie case. Xie is awaiting the Court of Criminal Appeal’s judgement (heard June/July 2020) arguing against his 2017 murder conviction, which was also a circumstantial case, also lacked evidence to place him at the crime scene or connect him to the crime and thus also contradicted formal logic.