Neither High Court nor juries guarantee fair trials

Andrew L. Urban.

On reading the story of the High Court’s refusal to grant leave to Derek Bromley’s appeal, reader Peter Gill writes: “Reminds me of this article about the High Court’s disgraceful 3-2 stuff-up in the Lindy Chamberlain High Court appeal.” He references an article about that case by Crispin Hill of the Canberra Times from 2017, leading Hill to question jury trials. 

Crispin Hill: I reported the Federal Court appeal and the High Court appeal, but not the trial. I was utterly convinced that Lindy was guilty. In the Federal Court, I was completely taken with prosecutor Ian Barker’s “rope” argument. He argued that an individual strand of a rope was not enough. But when you added a little strand of scientific evidence with another and yet another, you had enough rope to prove guilt.

There were eight pieces of scientific evidence each pointing to guilt which Barker said that when taken together were proof of guilty. A bit like “Silent Witness”. All convincingly damning stuff, especially the foetal blood bit.

Shattered my faith in juries

For me, after Azaria’s matinee jacket had been found six years later near a dingo’s lair and Lindy rightly exonerated, the case quite shattered my faith in the jury system and warned me against the legal establishment’s faith in it too.

Plucking 12 people from the street to decide criminal cases without any obligation to give reasons for their decision is idiocy.

The system is almost rigged against good outcomes. Wise older people with time on their hands and a willingness to be diligent are excluded. Smart business and professional people who would make good jurors get themselves excluded because they are smart enough to do so, or the jury Acts specifically exclude them.

So the rest decide, unconstrained by any requirement to give even oral reasons for their decision which might make them more diligent and help us understand if the system works or whether it acquits too many guilty people and convicts the innocent.

We are not allowed access to deliberations (even for research decades later). Who knows. We could have had a “pub test”. It goes along the lines: “Yeah, mate, we know dingoes don’t take babies so she must have done it.”

Complexity, nuance, and detailed analysis of evidence of the sort done by judges in civil trials may have little bearing on the 12 randomly chosen.

Footnote 1:
As if to make the point about juries, while I was preparing this article, it was reported in the New York Times on December 16, 2023 that Rudy Giuliani has been ordered by a Federal court jury to pay US$148 (A$220.73) million damages to two electoral officers wrongfully accused by him of having tried to steal votes from Donald Trump in Georgia.

Footnote 2:
Also while preparing this article, I received a summons for jury duty in January 2024.



This entry was posted in General articles. Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Neither High Court nor juries guarantee fair trials

  1. Don Wakeling says:

    Juries ( of four) used to be enlisted to hear civil m motor accident damages cases years ago. As a young law student I was sent to Wagga with a Barrister to deal with the cases where the GIO insured the defendant motorists, about 80% of the cases. My standing instructions were to apply for a Jury in every case. It only involved a 10 pound payment. One of those cases was brought by a a boy on a bicycle. The Jury found against him because they found that he was partly at fault. He’d lost his arm in the accident.
    After the Court adjourned I was in the bar of the hotel, Romano’s, opposite the Courthouse , and I saw one of the Jurors tell some people ” when I lost my arm I didn’t get anything”.

  2. John S says:

    That’s why I’m careful these days with police and other authorities, and I advise others to do the same! We can’t trust the system, it’s far from perfect. The individual is very disempowered against such a system, so be very wary! It’s better to be safe than sorry, don’t trust authorities (I don’t any longer)!

  3. Geri says:

    It’s more ‘trial by media’ than trial by jury.
    The jury wouldn’t have much of an opinion if it wasn’t for the journalists writing their two cents worth.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.