Just As I See It: Call for Criminal Case Review Commission

24 September, 2020

If you meet someone who says they have no regrets, find a new friend. My lingering regret is that I did not use my maiden speech to the Parliament in 1990 to argue the case for the release of Lindy Chamberlain, convicted of killing her baby daughter, Azaria.

I had a burning passion to see righted this dreadful injustice, possibly the greatest miscarriage of justice in Australia’s legal history.

A national whispering campaign, four inquests, a trial, wrongful conviction, appeal, acquittal, a Royal Commission, and finally exoneration.

There were no admissions in the case against her, no witnesses, no proven cause of death, no body, and only a five minute window of time to commit the crime and dispose of the body.

If we think that could only happen in the Northern Territory, never in the supposedly more sophisticated parts of Australia, we should all think again.

In 2007, Peter Smith was released after serving 12 months in a Melbourne prison when police admitted he’d been falsely charged with murder.

In 2009 Fara Jama was released after serving 15 months in a Victorian jail for rape, convicted on faulty DNA evidence for a crime that didn’t happen.

It is deeply worrying that in cases where appeals are exhausted but doubts of innocence remain, the only way to be referred back to the court is through the relevant State’s Attorney-General, a politician.

It is nearly impossible in this country of the fair go to have your case referred back to the court. It takes a brave Attorney-General to do that, and my experience of politicians is that when there is a vote involved or the court of public opinion is waiting to judge, bravery can be missing in action.

Emeritus Professor of Forensic Medicine, Stephen Cordner has called for the establishment of a Criminal Case Review Committee. I strongly back his call. One innocent Australian wrongly convicted, stuck in an Australian gaol, is one too many.

I can only wonder how many unjust rulings, let alone unjust laws have affected our First Peoples.

I have written to the Attorney General asking for such a Commission to be established, deleting politicians from the process.

New Zealand introduced its Commission on 1 July this year. It’s time we follow our trans-Tasman cousins.

Such an act would redeem the Chamberlain stain on our collective conscience and shine a light on any other injustices hiding in the shadows.

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Russell Broadbent MP
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