Andrew L. Urban.
Immediately after the Chris Dawson guilty verdict was announced this week, Lyn Dawson’s brother Greg Simms called on Dawson to do the decent thing and reveal the location of her body, to allow the family to give Lyn a proper burial. A plea has been made for NSW to introduce legislation similar to Queensland’s “no body, no parole” law in recognition of the anguish suffered by surviving relatives and friends of murder victims. But there is a grave risk of injustice in such a law unless it is carefully designed.
The argument for such a law is perfectly rational and humane and we support the concept. But the legislation must be drawn up so as to avoid extending the injustice on those who are wrongfully convicted – such as (we strongly believe) Sue Neill-Fraser in Tasmania. (This is an example; Neill-Fraser is not in the NSW jurisdiction.)
Although rare, such cases are catastrophic failures of the legal system. Is denying parole to one who is not the killer and therefore doesn’t know the location of the victim’s body, fair? The question is valid even in cases where the conviction has survived appeal. There’s the rub, as Shakespeare might say.
Generally, the law is not so flexible as to allow for exceptions such as this, but some device needs to be available to parole boards to deal with individual cases where the convicted can claim an exemption.
One such device may be the prospect of earlier parole as an inducement for the information about the location of the victim’s remains. The advantage of this approach is that the wrongfully accused (who doesn’t have the required knowledge) suffers no loss in being unable to locate the body and the guilty is ‘rewarded’ to help achieve the intent of the proposed law. The importance of the information outweighs the apparent leniency in ‘rewarding’ the killer.
Such an approach might work like this: the accused is found guilty and sentenced to 26 years, with a non parole period of 16 years, reduced to 13 years if they provide assistance to recover their victim/s within, say, 7 days of sentencing.
NOTE: By way of reference: the trial judge sentencing Sue Neill-Fraser imposed an additional period because he held her responsible for the failure to find the body of her partner Bob Chappell, who she was convicted of murdering. The appeal court found that the judge had erred as this was not permissible, reducing her head sentence from 26 to 23 years and her non parole period from 18 to 13 years.