Stuart Tipple Event at UTAS Last Night 28 May 2014 - Chamberlain 30 Years On and What Lessons Have Been Learned?
The School of Social Sciences at the University of Tasmania (UTAS), courtesy of Professor Rob White of Criminology, hosted a free public lecture at the Stanley Burbury lecture theatre at the Sandy Bay campus on Wednesday 28 May 2014. The evening event was very well attended, although it was disappointing that not a single Minister or member of Parliament was in attendance on what are critical issues for our criminal justice system and ongoing community confidence in its effective operation. The majority of attendees appeared to be concerned community members with a strong interest in justice.
Highly regarded lawyer, Mr Stuart Tipple, spoke for around 45 minutes on what occurred in the 1980 Lindy Chamberlain case from a defence counsel perspective. He ran through the numerous flaws in the forensic science case including the alleged presence of foetal blood, the alleged arterial spray under the dashboard of the family car, the so-called handprint on the baby's jumpsuit, the bloodstains on the jumpsuit which supposedly indicated major trauma to the neck or head (which turned out to be red sand), the so-called "scissor" cuts on the jumpsuit (which were later proven to correspond to damage from dingo teeth), the blood in the camera bag (which turned out to be copper dust from Mt Isa), the failure to correctly identify the dog/dingo hairs and the flawed evidence of a number of expert witnesses. He was particularly critical of the prejudicial use of presumptive testing results without confirmatory testing as with the orthotolidine test for the substance under the dashboard (which was, of course, found to sound deadener applied during the manufacturing process - on a closer examination of the so-called and more recent blood deposits, you could see that there was an overlay of the car's yellow paint).
He also commented on the problems with crime scene preservation (eg. the moving of the baby's jumpsuit before it was photographed), the apparent attempt to manipulate witness statements (particulary that of Sally Lowe, who was present in the audience), leaks to the media by police, the failure to take into account the evidence of the Aboriginal trackers who found tracks and paw imprints, and the incorrect rumour and innuendo that swirled around the Chamberlain case, including the supposed meaning of "Azaria".
He recalled the correct findings of the first Inquest and the comments made by the Coroner. He then outlined that due to the criticism made of the police investigation and the relevant Conservation agency, the police then "swooped" on the Chamberlain property without any notice and seized the family car and some belongings, some 18 months after the event in August 1980.
Stuart also recalled the "ambush" of the second Coronial Inquest where they weren't given access to material, didn't know who was to be called etc. He also spoke of the deal that had been offered to Lindy prior to court if she admitted her guilt in the death of baby Azaria. Lindy, however, was not interested in lies about what occurred and took her chances with the justice system.
Stuart then related how the defence team went about deconstructing or discrediting the Crown's forensic evidence, in particular, the so-called spray under the dashboard. He outlined how they failed in their appeals to the Federal Court and even the High Court. He recounted the staunch opposition that he encountered from the NT Government and the response of the Attorney-General who refused to acknowledge the deficiencies in the evidence presented which led to Lindy's conviction. He stressed the power of the media and made the point that people "get the media they deserve". He stressed the critical importance of "people power" and how important this factor was in having Lindy's conviction eventually overturned. He mentioned that 130,000 people actually signed a petition supporting Lindy's cause.
Stuart commented that he thought at one stage that Australia had the best legal system in the world. He no longer holds that view. He believes that important changes or improvements need to be made. He pointed out that, to his way of thinking, there were clear advantages in the inquisitorial system. He stated that the adversarial system is not a search for the truth. He voiced concerns with the quality of some expert evidence, even today. He commented that people who should not be regarded as experts can effectively give questionable evidence in court. He mentioned, as an example, the Gordon Wood case in NSW. He commented that some expert evidence came under far less review than a journal article that at least had to be peer reviewed. One of his main disappointments from the Morling Inquiry is that no action was taken against expert witnesses for their testimony.
He also expressed concern about the difficulties that were evident generally when you had two experts with opposing views and queried how the jury were supposed to judge which expert was correct in their opinion. He praised the Scandinavian system where a lot of the forensic evidence is apparently carefully scrutinised before it even gets into court.
He was critical of the jury system and pointed to some jurisdictions that allowed judge only decisions. He pointed out that in the Rayney case in WA, where the accused was an experienced criminal lawyer, the option for a judge only hearing had been pursued. Mr Rayney was subsequently acquitted of the murder of his wife. It appeared that those where were more informed about the system would opt in most cases for a judge only hearing. Stuart also reflected on the trial in Lindy's case where it was clear that the trial judge in his summing up and directions to the jury had been indicating a possible acquittal. Despite this, the jury found her guilty.
Stuart also spoke about the legal hurdles facing those who had been wrongly convicted and the limited avenues available to them. He pointed out that in Tasmania, as in most other Australian jurisdictions, there was no further right to appeal and no Criminal Cases Review Commission, as in the UK. He referred to the International INjustice conference held in Perth in March 2012.
He discussed the political nature of the Petition for Mercy process which required a decision by a politician to have the matter referred back to the courts. He said that any Attorney would be keen generally to maintain a conviction and not upset the status quo. He or she was on a "hiding to nothing". At that point Stuart strongly stressed again the importance of "people power".
He stated that he was aware of the Sue Neill-Fraser case here in Tasmania and the fact that there appeared to be issues in the case with presumptive testing. He said he was one of a number of leading lawyers who supported an inquiry into the case.
Stuart ended by reminding people it was their legal system and, in effect, that it was up to us all as individuals and concerned citizens to essentially make sure that we had a system that was both effective and fair.
There was considerable discussion after the main presentation with a number of participants asking questions of Stuart. Questions were facilitated by Professor Rob White. Numerous comments and questions were made concerning the Sue Neill-Fraser case here in Tasmania.
Given feedback after the talk, the evening was most worthwhile and UTAS should be commended for its role in hosting such an event. It was indeed a rare opportunity to gain a valuable insight into a case that has been described as the "high water mark" of injustice in Australia.
Note, this summary has been prepared the day after the event without having reviewed the actual recorded version. There has been some personal interpretation and paraphrasing of the comments made by the blogger. The event was live-streamed and is now available from the UTAS website at http://new.livestream.com/accounts/7587656/events/3034970. For the exact wording used and for the full discussion, please refer to the recorded proceedings.