Former Sue Neill-Fraser lawyer Barbara Etter’s mixed results in court

It has taken some seven years but the Tasmanian DPP’s complaint against former Sue Neill-Fraser lawyer Barbara Etter has been dismissed, while other complaints are upheld.

As reported by Amber Wilson, The Hobart Mercury, March 2, 2022:
FORMER Integrity Commission boss and ex-barrister Barbara Etter has cleared her name over a grievance arising from Sue Neill-Fraser’s high-profile murder trial – but could still face serious sanctions after being found guilty of professional misconduct.

On Tuesday (March 1, 2022), Supreme Court of Tasmania acting judge Brian Martin dismissed a complaint brought against Ms Etter – who previously acted for Neill-Fraser – by now-Director of Public Prosecutions Daryl Coates SC.

In his judgment, Acting Justice Martin outlined comments Ms Etter made on television program 60 Minutes in August 2014, and also on her personal blog, about luminol evidence in the Neill-Fraser trial.

During the 60 Minutes episode, Ms Etter claimed the jury in Neill-Fraser’s trial was shown a “highly prejudicial photograph” of a dingy with a luminol reaction and was wrongly told victim Bob Chappell’s blood was in the vessel.

Mr Coates, in a letter to the Legal Profession Board of Tasmania cited in Acting Justice Martin’s judgment, said “at no point” was the jury told that Mr Chappell’s blood had been found in the dinghy, claiming Ms Etter had attempted to “garner public sympathy by spreading a falsehood”.

Mr Coates also complained Ms Etter alleged two police officers fabricated or interfered with a video recorded interview between the police and Neill-Fraser.

But Acting Justice Martin dismissed Mr Coates’ request that Ms Etter be found guilty of professional misconduct or unsatisfactory professional conduct.

The judge, noting unedited material had indeed been provided to Neill-Fraser’s legal team, said Ms Etter’s actions over the video claims could be regarded “as a fishing expedition” in attempting a coroner to seek further information – and did not amount to professional misconduct.

Regarding the luminol complaint, Acting Justice Martin said during the trial, the Crown had opened its case by informing the jury that luminol in the dinghy indicated the presence of blood, and it was not inappropriate for Ms Etter to describe the photo as “highly prejudicial”.

However, a second complaint against Ms Etter was upheld, with Acting Justice Martin finding her guilty of professional misconduct by bringing vexatious complaints against four lawyers – Mr Coates and former DPP Tim Ellis SC relating to the Neill-Fraser trial, and Kate Cuthbertson and Emily Warner regarding a coronial inquest.

“It is clear from Ms Etter’s evidence that she endeavoured to use the complaint process as a means of fighting back against the board and legal practitioners involved with the board,” he said.

Ms Etter was also found guilty of a second instance of professional misconduct by “improperly attempting to influence the coroner’s decision” over the 2007 death of Tasmanian woman Rita Greer.

However, Acting Justice Martin found the remainder of the Greer complaint (six other issues) had not been made out.

“Ms Etter undoubtedly annoyed a number of persons with whom she dealt, and her voluminous correspondence was probably not met with much enthusiasm,” the judge said.

“However, being a difficult or annoying practitioner generally … does not translate into misconduct.”

As a result of the findings, Ms Etter – who quit the legal profession in 2018 after her legal practising certificate was temporarily suspended – could be subject to sanctions such as being struck off as a lawyer.

(Acting Justice Martin will announce his decision on sanctions on March 10, 2022.)

For more about the Legal Profession Board of Tasmania, see

“A law unto themselves, absent model principles” by Bill Rowlings, CEO, Civil Liberties Australia

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13 Responses to Former Sue Neill-Fraser lawyer Barbara Etter’s mixed results in court

  1. Peter Gill says:

    Here’s who Barbara Etter is:

    I’ve met her. In my opinion Barbara is one of the most wonderful, passionate forces for goodness and justice in the history of Australia. In the early days of the campaign to free Sue Neill Fraser, Barbara was the leading light, a shining force.

    I think the main reason the powers-that-be in Tasmania unfairly picked on Barbara is that they saw her as a sole practitioner, a single voice of reason who advocated for justice and for many years led the campaign to free Sue Neill Fraser. Someone they could easily victimise and put out of business. Sure, they also unfairly picked on Jeff Thompson, Sue Neill Fraser, Colin McLaren and Meaghan Vass, but the way they went after Barbara Etter took the cake.

  2. WHALENSKY says:

    Christ– what happens if you are close to a nuclear strike — might be what the Tasmanian Legal Sysrem needs ?

  3. Irene James says:

    Very interesting comments from Owen Allen, andI must say what a disgraceful system Tasmanians are living under. I commend Barbara Etter for her extraordinary efforts in this very publically uncomfortable case that many still believe this definitely needs investigating but certainly not by the locals. What happened to Charlie Bezzina and his colleagues. That’s who we need. There are too many unanswered questions. I personally don’t go along with the current outcome and I’m sure there are hundreds of other people who are of the same opinion. I feel for the whole family who have lost so much that can never be replaced.

    • WHALENSKY says:


    • WHALENSKY says:

      You’d have to be as blind as a BAT to not see the straight out corruption in VIC POLICE . SO TO BE A LONG TERM MEMBER of any Australian Police Force– and not have a Mendelssohn MILLER Job done on you– how ? Blind eye- see no evil- hear no evil–speak no evil . That would make you a pretty compromised COP !

  4. Diane Kemp says:

    Barbara Etter has impeccable qualifications and a history of highly qualified positions. This court action is a vindictive attempt to silence her by those who have demonstrated to seek vengeance because she is outspoken, seeks the truth and will not be silenced by those in power.
    That Acting Justice Martin found her ‘guilty of professional misconduct by bringing vexatious complaints against four lawyers – Mr Coates and former DPP Tim Ellis SC relating to the Neill-Fraser trial, and Kate Cuthbertson and Emily Warner regarding a coronial inquest’ simply shows the power and closed system operating in Tasmania between the legal fraternity and the courts. You are either an ‘in’ or an ‘out’ depending on if you speak out or shut up.
    There is no such thing as justice in this state if you are seen to be rocking the boat!!!
    Barbara you can continue to hold your head high knowing that your integrity and honesty have not been tarnished in any way by these petty people who believe they run this state. Tasmania – again another disgrace – when will you wake up to the dictatorship you are living under???

  5. Williambtm says:

    I recall the incident when Ms Etter did not feel inclined to proffer her evidence documents to Tasmania’s police.
    By the time that request had been made for the above-referenced documents, Ms Etter had become acquainted with the critically biased carriage of justice per most of this State’s judiciary and its collusion with Tasmania’s legal professional brotherhood.

    Moving on: a decision had been made by Tasmania’s Legal Professional Board between the above-mentioned legal professional brotherhood of lawyers and Tasmania’s discordant judiciary appointees. Certificate to practice is to be suspended.

    I recall reading the case transcript from a prior Supreme Court hearing between the appellate, Mr anonymous Vs Tasmania’s Legal Professional Board. The judge had sensibly decided in favour of the appellant, Mr Anonymous. The deciding factor was the extreme bias exhibited by Tasmania’s Legal Professional Board.
    (The supposedly unbiased members of Tasmania’s Legal Professional Board were, for whatever piddling reason, against the issuing of a legal professional certificate to Mr Anonymous to practice law in the State of Tasmania.
    How’s that for an exemplification of the enormous bias held by one and all in Tasmania’s Justice System. All in the above is an absolute fact.
    Vermin, I say, Mr Fawlty, Vermin.

  6. LB says:

    If trying to seek justice and expose the truth equates to a legal practitioner being described as “annoying” or “difficult” then shouldn’t that ring alarm bells about other practitioners and the system in general?
    I would like to see the material that is alleged to have been “improperly attempting to influence the coroner’s decision” – was perhaps this material another genuine attempt to clarify, to seek truths, to satisfy families and friends of a deceased person or persons?
    Seems to me there are a lot of highly sensitive and hypercritical folk in Tasmania who do not seem to like having to justify their decisions and actions. Perhaps it is just me, but all public servants are meant to be accountable and transparent in their roles …. Or is it just that some Tasmanians don’t like outsiders with impeccable qualifications, experience and integrity?

    • Owen allen says:

      Yes, yes, and yes. I had no civl rights or human rights in Tasmania as a blow in, and met many similar victims at Tasmania Whistleblower meetings, but also looking at statistics in Tasmania; if you aren’t connected you do not have a chance for justice. Bigotism, prejudism, discrimination, cronyism, nepotism, and perjury all rolled up, corruption with a capital C.
      A Federal Tasmania Royal Commission is required, Sue Neill-Fraser should be released immediately and a Federal Criminal Case Review Commission needs to be established ASAP and any public servant, including the Prime Minister, who rejects the notion/motion should be regarded as an enemy of the state, because it is the public interest these things happen.
      It must be remembered public servants are not Lords and Masters, they are Servants of The Public.,ps Telstra was down for hours in the Casino Region, I thought it ws s the beginning of the Third World War, because that is what will happen first if you aren’t close to a nuke strike.

    • Peter says:

      LB – it’s very long but here is Judge Martin’s judgement in March 2022. So you can have a look for yourself, if you have time, to try to find the material,

      It seems to be that Barbara was just doing her job, doing what her client wanted her to do, representing her client.

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