It has taken two lawyers working pro bono, lifelong friends who won’t give up, experts who worked for free, strong supporters behind the scenes and much more. What does this say about our system if we need all of this support to get one person the justice they deserve, asks Rhanee Rego, Kathleen Folbigg’s lawyer. It’s not so much a question as an accusation; the system and especially the appellate mechanisms, are not fit for purpose.
In an exclusive interview with The Telegraph’s Cydonee Mardon (11/2/24), Rego says “It’s been all so consuming, but that’s what it takes. It takes a group of good, committed people dedicated to help. What that reflects on is not kudos for me, it’s a reflection of how bad our review system is structured.
Over the 20 years of her incarceration, Folbigg had 17 different judges “sit in judgment of her”. “Most people hated her. It was a very unpopular cause, so unpopular that I feared we would never obtain justice for Kathleen,” Rego said. She is uncomfortable accepting glory for what she has achieved, despite being instrumental in securing Folbigg’s unconditional pardon after 20 years in jail and setting her client up for potentially the biggest payout in Australian criminal history.
Rego is far from a lone voice on the failures of our justice system. Former High Court judge Michael Kirby and Flinders University legal academic Dr Bob Moles, to take two examples, have repeatedly criticised the appellate structures around the country in particular.
Rego’s observation also echoes former Tasmanian Premier and Attorney-General, Lara Giddings. Writing in the foreword to Andrew L. Urban’s latest book on the infamous Sue Neill-Fraser (wrongful) murder conviction, The Exoneration Papers – Sue Neill-Fraser she says:“Miscarriages of Justice are fought and won not just by the person who has been wronged, but by the dedicated team of people around them who refuse to give up until justice is served. Sue Neill-Fraser has such a team around her; from pro bono defence lawyers to a former prosecutor, from legal academics to a former Premier and Attorney-General, from social workers to a psychologist film maker, from family and friends to the 36,000 Australians who have signed a petition wanting the case reviewed. One of these people is Andrew Urban, a Sydney-based journalist, who is not interested in merely feeding the hungry beast of daily news, but follows through a story: unpicking, analysing and retelling the story in an easy to read, logical and enlightening way.”
“This is a story, however, not just about Sue Neill-Fraser, but about the collateral damage to those around her; people trying to help, challenging the status quo, and instead finding themselves the subject of the law. After years of long-drawn-out legal action, charges and cases have been dropped, but not before almost breaking the people involved, both financially and emotionally. People have had to sell their homes, move their families, and engage legal representation to fight for their own innocence and reputation, all because in some way they tried to help Sue.
“The Sue Neill-Fraser case has been more about a system determined to maintain the conviction than a system looking for the truth. The sad part of this case is that it has led to an undermining of confidence and trust in our justice system.”