Risk in ‘no body, no parole’ law

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.

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6 Responses to Risk in ‘no body, no parole’ law

  1. John S says:

    Forgive my ignorance, but why did Chris Dawson get convicted now & not before? What’s changed? What real evidence has turned up to change the mind of a judge?

    • John S says:

      Seems no new evidence at all, just they changed their minds!

      It seems patently obvious to those of us who contribute to this site that things aren’t so good in “justice land”, and doubtless if any of us were making decisions, we’d make better ones. It’s sad that these decisions are made by those not held to account, and our elected ones don’t seem to be able to bring on a CCRC. So that makes us (Australia) a quasi dictatorship! Why vote? I’m in that space at the moment. Asia, here I come!

  2. Brian Johnston says:

    If the cops go after the wrong person there is no body. It is just a lousy way for the state to keep an innocent person locked up.
    I guess most guilty people would say where the body is to get a reduced sentence.

  3. LB says:

    Circumstances seem to have conspired against Sue receiving any fairness for 13 years. Premiers, Attorneys-General, Police Commissioners and parliament have all chosen to ignore the calls from eminent lawyers, respected journalists, and experts on miscarriages of justice that her conviction is unsafe. A court hearing in Hobart named the murderer, it was even published on the front page of the local newspaper, yet all these people in power have ignored repeated calls for an independent enquiry. You have to ask why. Worryingly, after all this time, what makes anyone think she might receive an ounce of fairness in any parole hearing? An urgent and Independent Enquiry outside Tasmania of this entire case is desperately needed. Would like to know what the Tas Attorney General is doing to facilitate an independent enquiry, now it is outside the courts.

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