Andrew L. Urban.
In another judgement (after the trial and the first appeal) that will forever be a stain on Tasmania’s legal system, Sue Neill-Fraser’s latest appeal against her 2010 murder conviction was dismissed by a majority of 2:1 of the appeal judges of the Court of Criminal Appeal, it was announced in the Supreme Court of Tasmania at 9.45am on Tuesday, November 30, 2021, six years after the then new further right to appeal legislation was passed in 2015, introduced by then Attorney-General the late Vanessa Goodwin.
Neill-Fraser was convicted of murdering her partner Bob Chappell on Australia Day 2009, aboard their recently purchased yacht, Four Winds. It was a circumstantial case; Chappell’s body has never been found, neither a murder weapon. The controversial case has since been examined by lawyers, legal academics, investigative writers, authors, TV documentaries and a movie; none could find any evidence probative of her guilt beyond reasonable doubt.
The judges’ reasons will be made public shortly; we will continue to monitor comments and analysis over coming days.
A DNA deposit found on the deck was matched to then homeless 16 year old Meaghan Vass, but fearing repercussions she at first denied having been on board. She later admitted it was her, but her testimony was then found not to be reliable. The prosecution had argued the DNA was in any case not a direct deposit but transferred somehow. The appeal is grounded on evidence given by Victoria Police forensic specialist Maxwell Jones claiming the prosecution was wrong at the 2010 trial to dismiss the DNA deposit as a red herring. “There is … a significant possibility that the jury would have delivered a different verdict if the evidence of [Mr] Jones had been before it,” barrister Chris Carr SC told the appeal court.
Revelations in the Etter/Selby papers (tabled in Parliament in August 2021) of evidence withheld and a litany of other serious problems with the police investigation, have fuelled preparations to call for a Parliamentary Inquiry into the case, in the event that the appeal is unsuccessful.
The dismissal of the appeal reflects badly on the Attorney-General’s decision not to have judges from interstate (as would have been standard practice) to hear the appeal, thus avoiding the appearance or real conflict of interest, especially as the trial judge is now Chief Justice.
Sue Neill-Fraser has spent over 12 years in prison since her arrest in August 2009.
It can be said – even without seeing the reasons for it – the decision brings the court into disrepute, as it tramples the basic requirement of criminal law that the accused must be found guilty beyond reasonable doubt. That is certainly not the case here.