Max Sica found Not Guilty of child’s rape and abuse


This case is one I have not been following since it went to trial, but I see it reported this morning that Sica has been found Not Guilty of the 21 sex offences that date back from 2004. Report from Courier Mail below… 

Interesting that it has been reported that “Sica has become the latest in a growing long line of infamous criminals to win judge only trials – including notorious pedophiles Dennis Ferguson and Roy Schloss.” 

While Judge only trials are rare and difficult to obtain, if a trend develops such as has been suggested, I would be surprised if there are not many more defendant’s in the future who try to argue for a judge only trial.

   

Convicted triple murderer Max Sica found not guilty of child’s rape, abuse

CONVICTED triple murderer Massimo “Max” Sica has been found not guilty of raping and repeatedly abusing a young girl over a four year period.

Sica – who is already serving a record 35-years in jail for the 2003 murder of the Singh siblings – is the latest in a growing list of reviled convicted criminals – including infamous pedophiles Dennis Ferguson and Roy Schloss – to be a acquitted after a rare judge only trial.

Brisbane District Court judge Michael Shanahan delivered the verdict to a stunned packed court – including Sica’s parents Carlo and Anna and his siblings – on Friday morning.

Judge Shanahan deliberated almost two weeks before handing down his verdict 21 sex offences – including child rape.

Sica received three life terms of imprisonment – an”d ordered to serve a minimum of 35-years – for the savage murder of the Singh siblings Neelma, 24, Kunal, 18, and Sidhi, 12.

Judge Shanahan, in his written 50-page decision, said medical evidence revealed the girl physically showed all the hallmarks of being a virgin and could not have been subjected to the sexual attack alleged.

“There is one fact … which causes me significant concern,” he said.

“Considering the medical evidence I cannot be satisfied beyond a seasonable doubt that the penetrative (sexual) acts occurred as described by the (girl).”

Judge Shanahan also commented on the girl’s “credibility”, saying her evidence raised a “number of issues of concern.”

“I am not satisfied beyond reasonable doubt that any of the counts have been proved … (and) verdicts of not guilty are entered to each of the counts.”

Sica, who stood ramrod straight in the dock of Court 31 for the verdict, breathed out deeply and smiled as he heard Judge Shanahan’s decision.

Outside court, Sica’s jubilant brother, Claudio, said: “Justice has finally been served, but not fully.”

“There was no other verdict that could have been given.”

Sica has become the latest in a growing long line of infamous criminals to win judge only trials – including notorious pedophiles Dennis Ferguson and Roy Schloss.

Sica was granted the judge-only trial after his lawyers convinced the court Sica’s notoriety would make it almost impossible to find and impartial panel of jurors anywhere in Queensland.

Sica early last month pleaded not guilty to 21 sex offences, including two counts of rape and one of maintaining a sexual relationship with the child between November 15, 2004 and September 10, 2008.

Then aged 35 to 39, he was also charged with nine counts each of unlawful carnal knowledge and indecent dealing of a child under 16.

The court had been told Sica allegedly had sex with the child, then aged between nine and 13, more than 100 times during the four-year period.

In July, a Brisbane Supreme Court jury found Sica guilty of the 2003 murder of the Singh siblings.

He was sentenced to three life terms, with a record minimum non-parole period of 35-years.

Sica has appealed those verdicts, with a two day hearing scheduled to start in the Court of Appeal in Brisbane on May 27.

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Vicki Arnold and Julie-Anne Leahy – Murder at Cherry Tree Creek


The 1991 deaths of Vicki Arnold (27) and her best-friend Julie-Anne Leahy (26) at Cherry Tree Creek in Far North Queensland have captivated the attention of the State and the nation for over 21 years and even spawned the writing of a book over the mystery.

Coroner’s inquests held in 1992 and 1999 found that Ms. Arnold bashed her best friend with a rock, slit her throat and shot her twice before turning the gun on herself – firing a shot though her thigh and two shots through her own head in an apparent murder-suicide.

From the beginning however there were many who questioned the “official” version of events and in a stunning development on 1 March 2013, following a third inquest, State Coroner Mr. Michael Barnes ordered Ms. Leahy’s husband, Alan, stand trial on two counts of murder.  Mr. Leahy maintains his innocence, but for the family of Ms. Arnold and in particular her 87 year-old mother Vida, the findings of the Coroner mark a step in their 21 year fight to clear Vicki’s name…

With an arrest warrant for Alan Leahy’s pending, here’s hoping that despite any inadequacies in the initial Police investigation, something that more closely resembles the truth will finally be revealed and confirmed in Court.

More details of the case can be found below courtesy of the Courier Mail and the following links:

Coroners Findings – 1 March 2013

Murder at Cherry Tree Creek – 60 Minutes

Third Party to Murder: The Sequel

Husband Alan Leahy ordered to stand trial for murder of wife Julie-Anne and friend Vicki Arnold 21 years ago

  • by: Kate Kyriacou, Peter Michael
  • From: The Courier Mail
  • March 02, 2013 12:00AM

Leahy, Arnold murder graphic

FOR 21 years, Vicki Arnold’s family has been told the mild-mannered chartered accountant bashed her best friend with a rock, slit her throat and shot her twice before turning the gun on herself – firing two shots through her own head in an apparent murder-suicide.

She did this, according to a police investigation and two coronial inquests, despite having no motive and no history of depression or any other mental health issues.

Yesterday, State Coroner Michael Barnes tore holes in the findings of police and the previous inquests – declaring it was more likely Ms Arnold, 27, and her best friend Julie-Anne Leahy, 26, were murdered.

In an extraordinary hearing before a packed courtroom, Mr Barnes ordered Mrs Leahy’s husband Alan stand trial on two counts of murder.

A warrant was issued for his arrest and he is expected to be extradited from Western Australia to face court in Queensland.

Mr Leahy yesterday told The Courier-Mail he would maintain his innocence.

 THE husband of a woman found shot dead with her best friend in 1991 will face trial for the deaths after a third Coronial inquest in the case.

Vicki Arnold's vehicle at the crime scene.

ARREST ORDERED: Vicki Arnold’s vehicle at the crime scene. Picture: Aaron Francis

“Of course I will fight the charges,” he said.

The bodies of the women were found inside the Leahy family 4WD in remote bushland near Cairns in August 1991 – two weeks after they failed to return from a late-night fishing trip.

“Those involved in the early stages of the investigation failed to gather, lost or corrupted evidence that may have established the truth of what happened at Cherry Tree Creek on the night of July 26, 1991,” Mr Barnes said.

“They then set about squeezing what evidence was left into an explanation that required no further action.”

He said two coronial inquests went along with the police opinion that the women’s deaths were an open-shut murder-suicide.

Vicki Arnold at work in her Hall Chadwick Office

SLOW JUSTICE: Vicki Arnold’s family at her graveside August 14, 1991. Picture: Aaron Francis

The court heard Mrs Leahy’s husband told police the women had left home after midnight to go fishing and never returned.

Mr Barnes said it was telling that Mr Leahy spent that night in bed with his wife’s 16-year-old sister Vanessa.

“Alan Leahy spent considerable time in his wife’s sister’s bed on the night the two women disappeared,” he said.

“A possible interpretation for what would seem cavalier behaviour is that he knew his wife would not be returning.”

Mr Barnes also found:

  • While Ms Arnold had bought the gun that was used to shoot the women, the most likely scenario was that she had done so for someone else. Mr Barnes said she knew nothing about guns, yet insisted on buying a .22 rifle while giving various explanations as to why she needed it.
  • Ms Arnold had neither the equipment or the know-how to saw down a rifle. Mr Leahy did and lied about owning a vice, which would have been used to shorten the barrel.
  • Ms Arnold had no motive, appeared content the night she disappeared and had apparently embarked on a midnight fishing trip despite having made work appointments for 6am the following day.
  • It was unlikely Ms Arnold had shot herself in the back of the head after first shooting herself in the thigh and chin.
  • Trajectory examinations found one bullet was likely fired from the back seat.
  • The sawn-off barrel from the gun, a hacksaw and instruction manual were placed inside a pillow slip from the Leahy house and left in Ms Arnold’s driveway two weeks after her body was found. Mr Barnes said “only someone who had themselves been involved in the deaths had a motive to do that”.
Vicki Arnold and Julie-Ann Leahy

SHOT DEAD: Best friends Vicki Arnold and Julie-Anne Leahy

He said while Ms Arnold did not appear to have a motive, Mr Leahy did.

The court heard Mr Leahy had been having an affair with his sister-in-law, had mounting debts and stood to gain $120,000 from his wife’s life insurance. He also lied about owning true crime magazines – one depicting a murder made to look like a murder-suicide. The court heard the day before the women disappeared, Mrs Leahy had asked her younger sister to stay home from school – a request the teenager was convinced meant Mrs Leahy wanted to confront her about the affair.

Mr Barnes ordered Mr Leahy to stand trial at the next sittings of the Supreme Court in Cairns, giving him 14 days to surrender to police.

The women’s relatives in court – and others viewing the hearing live in Cairns – cried and applauded as Mr Barnes delivered his finding.

Mrs Leahy’s brother Peter Martin punched the air.

Vicki Arnold at work in her Hall Chadwick Office

LONG BLAMED: Vicki Arnold at work in her Hall Chadwick office. Picture: Aaron Francis

“I’m on top of the world,” he said. “(The decision) takes Vicki straight out of the picture – as it should have been from word go. We can wake up tomorrow morning and have a smile on our face.”

In Cairns, Ms Arnold’s wheelchair-bound mother Vida sobbed as Mr Leahy was ordered to stand trial.

“I’ve waited nearly 22 years for this result,” she said. “I’ve lost a lot of sleep over the years. Who knows if I’ll get any sleep tonight.” She thanked Mr Barnes, her lawyer Philip Bovey and State MP Curtis Pitt for correcting a “miscarriage of justice”.

———-

THE EVIDENCE

The crime scene

Mrs Leahy’s throat was slashed, her body held upright in the driver’s seat by a seat belt wrapped around her neck. She had been bashed with a rock and shot twice in the head. Ms Arnold’s body was slumped on the passenger-side floor with bullet wounds to her thigh, jaw and behind the right ear, her hand resting on the stock of a sawn-off rifle with a shell in the breech.

State Coroner Michael Barnes said he doubted the gun would have come to rest in such a manner.

The assumption

Within four hours, police declared the incident a murder-suicide. The crime scene was cleared and the 4WD towed to Yungaburra, where it was stored inappropriately and the elements tainted any forensic evidence.

The gun

The gun’s barrel and the hacksaw used to cut it down were discovered in Ms Arnold’s garage two weeks after the women were found dead. Two police officers, Bill Hendrikse and Sgt Bernie Wilce, swore in the witness box the pillow case containing the parts was not there during an initial search of the unit. Ms Arnold’s former neighbour, Pamela Fox, said she found the gun parts in the garage the day after she saw someone running from the home during the night.

The magazines

Mr Leahy gave police a series of murder-themed magazines after the women’s deaths. He told officers Ms Arnold borrowed them from the Leahy household. But he told the inquest he did not remember the magazines belonging to the family – despite most of them having the name “Leahy” scrawled on the inside cover.

The sister

During the hearing Mrs Leahy’s teenage sister, Vanessa, gave evidence that she was in a sexual relationship with Mr Leahy and was terrified her sister would find out.

———-

MURDER MYSTERY AT CHERRY TREE CREEK

How the events unfolded

July 26, 1991: Julie-Anne Leahy, 26, and Vicki Arnold, 27, are reported missing after Mrs Leahy’s husband, Alan, says they failed to return from a fishing trip to Lake Tinaroo.

August 9, 1991: Trailbike riders find the women’s bodies about 5pm in the the Leahy family’s Nissan Patrol, about 15km out of Atherton on a bush track. Despite the bizarre scene, police rule their deaths a murder-suicide and the vehicle and bodies are hastily removed.

July 30, 1992: First inquest into the women’s deaths begins at Atherton Coroner’s Court. After hearing the evidence, Coroner Hamilton Spicer supports the murder-suicide theory.

July, 1997: Police Minister Russell Cooper announces a reopening of the controversial case, appointing former senior investigators Carl Mengler and Frank O’Gorman. A week later, convicted murderer Gregory De Jong tells detectives that notorious drug dealer Christopher Dunlea, whom De Jong confessed to shooting in 1994, admitted to him that he killed the pair.

May, 1998: The Mengler and O’Gorman report is highly critical of the original police investigation.

April 19, 1999: A second inquest into the women’s deaths begins. The Coroner’s Court hears of Ms Leahy’s younger sister Vanessa’s affair with her husband. A forensic expert tells the court it would be highly unlikely a person would shoot themself in the head twice.

February 21, 2000: Coroner Gary Casey rules again in favour of the murder-suicide theory. The Arnold and Leahy families are stunned.

September, 2005: Former Far North detective Bill Hendrikse, one of the first officers at the scene, claims a senior police officer refused to order an investigation into the suspected double murder because of overtime costs.

July, 2008: Homicide detectives investigate whether the women were killed because they knew too much about a bungled bank robbery after a witness comes forward with fresh evidence.

October 23, 2010: Attorney-general Cameron Dick announces a third inquest will be held after lobbying from Mulgrave MP Curtis Pitt – Bill Hendrikse’s nephew.

November 14, 2011: Third inquest begins before State Coroner Michael Barnes and hears evidence shedding doubt on the adequacy of the initial police investigation, and some expert witnesses say they lean more towards a double-murder scenario.

March 1, 2013: Mr Barnes hands down his findings and commits Alan Leahy to stand trial for murder.

Lloyd Rayney Murder Trial Coverage


Map of sites visited by Judge and legal teamsFor some earlier info click here on a post I did in December 2010

The JUDGE ONLY murder trial for Lloyd Rayney has began. On trial for the wilful murder of his wife Corryn…I’m sure in what will be riveting stuff for those interested, so here is where we will be covering it. Feel free to join in the conversation below!

http://youtu.be/jgqdLLS_JPU

DAY 12 – AUGUST 7, 2012 – “Rayney ‘said he hated his wife”

Courtesy of: thewest.com.au

UPDATE, 12:40pm Lloyd Rayney “hated” his wife and was concerned about a series of allegations she had made shortly before her death, including claims he was sleeping in their daughters’ beds at night, a former colleague of Mr Rayney’s and aide-de-camp to two WA governors has told his Supreme Court murder trial.

The court was also told that Mr Rayney, who is alleged to have tapped his wife’s phone shortly before her death, asked his then colleague about “surveillance” options, saying “cost wouldn’t be an issue’.

Clare O’Brien, a former Perth-based lawyer who worked with Mr Rayney at the Director of Public Prosecutions appeared as a witness via videolink this morning.

Today is the fifth anniversary of Corryn Rayney’s death.

Ms O’Brien gave evidence about a conversation with Mr Rayney at a coffee shop, in which he said he “hated” his wife.

“I asked him how the situation was at home and if he thought the marriage could be salvaged and Lloyd said that he’d been making a great deal of effort over a long period of time, which I think also included marriage counselling, but that his efforts weren’t working and it looked like it was over,” she said.

“He said that he hated Corryn… He just said the words, there wasn’t any particular emotion.”

Ms O’Brien gave evidence Mr Rayney said he wanted to “know what was going on in relation to Corryn’s plans”. She said Mr Rayney asked her if she knew anyone that knew anything about “home security or home surveillance systems”.

She said she recommended Mr Rayney speak to a friend of her brother’s, who had been involved in installing cameras in nightclubs. Ms O’Brien said she subsequently asked her brother to make contact with his friend, Tim Pearson, which he did.

Under cross-examination Ms O’Brien said police threatened to charge her, costing her both her job and reputation if she did not make a statement to police. She said she was not told what she would be charged with but that the charges would ultimately be dropped.

Ms O’Brien said police told her that “by the time we eventually drop the charge, because ie: there is no evidence, it’s too late because the damage is done,” she said. She said she was told her brother could also be charged. “I was absolutely starting to get extremely scared,” she said.

However, Ms O’Brien said nothing police said to her led her to give evidence that was untrue and she would ultimately have made a statement in any case.

Ms O’Brien recalled a separate phone conversation she had with Mr Rayney in late June or early July 2007, in which he told her Mrs Rayney was making false accusations via email. The allegations include claims he was sleeping in his daughters’ beds at night, which he said he was not.

Ms O’Brien said Mr Rayney said Mrs Rayney’s claim was ridiculous. Asked for her interpretation of the emails, Ms O’Brien said she suggested Mrs Rayney may be “setting up an email trail” ahead of divorce proceedings.

“He wanted to let a few people know that he was having some difficulties with Corryn in his marriage,” Ms O’Brien said.

“He said that Corryn had been sending emails to his work and she was writing things that weren’t true in the sense that Lloyd was sleeping in the girls’ beds at night and he asked me what did I make of that by her doing that… I said that it looked as though she was setting up an email trail indicating that things had occurred when they hadn’t in order to be able to apply pressure to Lloyd in relation to the divorce proceedings.”

Ms O’Brien and Mr Rayney discussed the implications of Mrs Rayney’s allegations on his reputation and his aspiration “to be called to the bench”, joking he wanted to be “the first black judge in WA”. Ms O’Brien said she suggested Mr Rayney move out of the couple’s home but he said Mrs Rayney should move out instead.

Ms O’Brien said she told Mr Rayney that if his wife’s allegations “got out” they could negatively affect his career prospects.

Later, in August 2007, when Mrs Rayney was missing but before her body had been found Ms O’Brien said she visited Mr Rayney at his home.

“We all sat down and I remember that… I’d never seen Lloyd look so completely shattered,” she said. “He was on the point of tears and he looked at me and asked me how was he going to be able to tell the girls that their mother was dead. It was one of the saddest moments that I could recall, watching someone even contemplating having that conversation with his children… it was a moment.”

Ms O’Brien said that in an effort to raise Mr Rayney’s spirits she told him he should not assume his wife was dead and suggested he check if his wife’s passport or any money was missing. “It was like he’s jumped to the worst case scenario and I said, ‘well, it might not be the case that she’s dead, she might be missing’,” she said.

Ms O’Brien also gave evidence about the nature of her friendship with Mr Rayney after they both left the DPP. At times she said she recommended Mr Rayney to people seeking representation, including a police officer who appeared at the Corruption and Crime Commission.

“I recommended… clients to use Lloyd for their matters,” she said.

Ms O’Brien also gave evidence about a lunch she attended at the Rayneys’ Como home in 2007 with her then-fiancee. Asked about the relationship she observed between Mr and Mrs Rayney she said they were “very welcoming”.

“The atmosphere was very welcoming, it was very warm and cordial,” she said.

“It was obvious that they regularly entertained because they worked in tandem… it was very much a team effort and we had a very nice time.”

Ms O’Brien was a lawyer at the Legal Aid office of WA from 2004 to late 2007 and before that worked at the DPP with Mr Rayney.

Ms O’Brien now lives in Queensland. The case has been adjourned until tomorrow.

TRIAL UPDATES: (click on links below for daily coverage)

DAY 1 – July 16, 2012 – “Family home scene of Corryn Rayney murder – prosecution”

DAY 2 - July 17, 2012 – ‘Lloyd Rayney place card found near Kings Park burial site’

DAY 3 – July 18, 2012 – ‘Rayney murder trial moves to park site where wife’s body was buried’

Map of sites visited by Judge (click here – then on next screen select link again)

DAY 4 – July 24, 2012 – ‘First witnesses take to the stand in Rayney murder’

DAY 6 – July 26, 2012 – ‘Murder trial told of Rayney’s security fears’

DAY 7 – July 27, 2012 – ‘Lloyd and Corryn Rayney went on Bali holiday with Gina Rinehart’

DAY 8 – July 30, 2012 – ‘The Rayney Trial – Week three begins’

DAY 9 – July 31, 2012 – ‘Lloyd Rayney didn’t drive his wife’s car on night of party – witness’

DAY 10 - August 1, 2012 – ‘Lloyd Rayney investigator says evidence was not ignored’

DAY 11 – August 2, 2012 – ‘Seed pod bag seals in dispute’

Lloyd Rayney  Previous Coverage

Accused father reunited with daughters

LAWYER Lloyd Rayney has broken his silence over charges that he murdered his wife after he was granted $100,000 bail in the Supreme Court.

‘We will catch Corryn’s killer’

THE family of murdered Perth lawyer Corryn Rayney believes her killer will eventually be brought to justice.

Rayney in court for bail variation

BARRISTER Lloyd Rayney, accused of murdering his wife in 2007, made a brief appearance in court today where his bail conditions were varied.

Rayney trial $3m price tag ‘unavoidable’

BUDGET documents reveal that the murder trial of Lloyd Rayney will cost taxpayers almost $3 million.

Rayney attends injustice event

PROMINENT Perth barrister Lloyd Rayney, who will stand trial for the murder of his wife later this year, was among the high profile faces who attended a fundraiser for victims of miscarriages of justice.

Rayney trial to cost at least $2m

IT’S the $20,000-a-day murder trial set to sting WA taxpayers more than $2 million.

Bail altered amid more delays for Rayney

NEW conditions will be attached to barrister Lloyd Rayney’s bail before his impending murder trial, which could still be more than a year away.

WA’s trial of the century

PROSECUTORS are set to call almost 200 witnesses and tender 200 exhibits during barrister Lloyd Rayney’s Supreme Court trial, which starts in Perth today

Rayney loses ‘persons of interest’ bid

LLOYD Rayney’s defence team has lost its bid for information about  warrants on other “persons of interest” in the murder of Corryn Rayney to be produced at his trial.

Remembering Corryn Rayney

IN the days before Corryn Rayney’s untimely death she was the happiest she’d been for a long time.

Delays in Rayney murder case

THE murder case against barrister Lloyd Rayney has been delayed because the Prosecution is yet to file key documents,  the WA Supreme Court was told today.

Rayney wins two-month adjournment

THE trial of barrister Lloyd Rayney over the wilful murder of his wife has been postponed until July after he was granted an eight-week adjournment.

Rayney bars web from trial

BARRISTER Lloyd Rayney has stopped the opening addresses of his wilful murder trial from being broadcast live on the internet or television.

Rayney killed at family home – Prosecution

PROSECUTORS in the Lloyd Rayney murder trial will lead evidence they claim shows the Supreme Court registrar was murdered by her husband in their Como home.

Rayney opts for judge-only murder trial

THE murder trial of Perth barrister Lloyd Rayney will be presided over by a judge alone, without a jury.

Rayney charged with murder

PROMINENT Perth lawyer Lloyd Rayney has been charged with the 2007 murder of his estranged wife Corryn after a dramatic arrest in the city today.

Intense interest in Rayney murder trial

THE Supreme Court is preparing for intense media interest in the epic five-month murder trial of prominent barrister Lloyd Rayney, which begins on Monday.

Husband’s frantic plea to find missing wife

THE husband of missing Perth supreme court registrar Corryn Rayney has made a desperate plea for help in finding his wife.

 

 

 

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New technology, the media and criminal trials – Let's talk about it


Here is an interesting article folks that I found that comes at a time when the media and the internet are colliding with the long-held protocols of the old school legal system of the last century, who needs to catch up with who I wonder?

Where are we headed with blogs like this? the instant twitter commentary from courtrooms, the insatiable thirst for the information, good bad or ugly. You all know I am a believer of  Major Trials being telecast to those who want to and indeed need to watch them. Just like some have an interest in Question Time in Parliament and some do not. make it available, what is there to hide?

By Peter Gregory

July 06 2012

Are we now behind the times?

On an overseas crime website was the personal and criminal history of a man known to the Victorian public.

At the time, he was before the courts on a serious charge. The trial judge had warned jurors not to look up the internet, because they were to return a verdict only on the evidence they saw or heard in the courtroom.

Put simply, the judge’s warning was part of delivering a fair trial. If accused of crime, you are judged by a jury of your peers.

They base their decision on the material presented to them in the courtroom. Almost always, that means no reference to the previous convictions of the person on trial, or neighbourhood gossip about a case, or the wise pronouncements of media commentators.

The legal system’s assumption is that jurors, not being trained as lawyers, will find it harder to put aside prejudicial information. If you were a juror on a rape trial, and learned that the accused person had been convicted (separately) of rape six months earlier, what would you think about this case?

“Guilty,” said one student when this question was posed during a seminar some years ago. That is why jury members are told not to follow media reports, do their own research, or talk to their families about the case. They are also instructed to be wary of social media, like Twitter or Facebook.

“If your family is like mine, everyone will have an expert opinion,” one judge would say at the start of a Supreme Court trial.

“You can blame me. If they ask about the evidence, you can say the judge told you that you are not allowed to discuss it.”

Journalists would get very nervous about their court stories, fearing they might be fined or worse if they revealed information that the courts believed was likely to be prejudicial.

In one case, five media organisations were fined a collective $670,000 after reporting that a man arrested over three New South Wales murders in 1989 had confessed. The reports were likely to interfere with the administration of justice, it was found.

These were simpler times when a big worry for publishers was the potential to mix up the conservative court story written for local audiences with a more comprehensive account prepared for interstate editions.

If the Victorian jury was protected from prejudice, all was well. If a stuff-up occurred, media lawyers were sent to court to apologise.

More than 20 years later, safety and conservatism sound like foreign concepts.

The crime website which featured the Victorian suspect was not the worst by any means. True, its advertisements for criminal-related merchandise, including DVDs, calendars and magazines, was distracting, but his segment was a fairly sober summary of his court appearances, material from interviews and legal debate about his future.

Numerous other websites talk about criminals and killers. Some are moderate and feature court decisions. Others appear to follow the “hang ‘em high” school, practised with or without a trial.

Still wary of the legal process, mainstream media websites monitor or ban comments being made about court-related stories.

Inflammatory remarks can raise difficulties for many institutions which have embraced social media and the internet to engage with the public.

Bond University professor Mark Pearson recently analysed problems with the Queensland Police Facebook site, which was flooded with hard-nosed commentary following a high-profile arrest.
“I fear it will not be long before a savvy defence lawyer seizes the opportunity to use such prejudicial commentary as grounds for appeal, perhaps resulting in a trial being aborted at great public expense or even a verdict quashed,” he told The Australian newspaper.

So, what can the courts do?

Last month, the New South Wales Criminal Court of Appeal allowed a media challenge to court orders that would have forced news websites to remove thousands of archived stories about a conspiracy to murder trial. The Sydney Morning Herald said the court upheld the argument that the orders were futile because “vast swathes of information on the internet are essentially beyond the court’s control”.

“It is something of an irony that the (media organisations)…are, on one view, the only people against whom an order could properly have been made,” the court said in its published judgment.

While NSW law might let prosecuting authorities seek suppression orders over prejudicial material published online by local media, that permission could not validly apply to the world at large.

Suppression orders might cover material on internet sites beyond the control or awareness of local publishers.

Imagine the SMH finding all the international crime websites, and persuading them to take down some of their murder summaries because an Australian prosecutor was worried about them.

A Law Council of Australia committee, of which this writer is a member, outlined some other problems in a submission made to the Federal Government.

The media and communications committee said information could not be effectively censored or removed once it was available online. Material was often republished or cached on other sites. Monitoring archives for past publications would be costly and a significant exercise, and in many cases would have little practical effect, the committee argued.

Removing mainstream material might also bump the relevant information contained on less reputable websites up the search engine list for determined researchers.

“Suppression and non-publication orders that that operate to censor or remove historical reports by mainstream media organisations can lead to (the other) websites being elevated in lists of search results carried out, for instance, on the names of accused persons, and thus perversely increase the risk of prejudice to forthcoming trials,” the committee said.

If censoring the media does not work, the focus returns to juries. Jurors can be fined for looking up the internet during trials, if they decide to ignore judges’ warnings.

On its website, the Judicial College of Victoria has quoted court decisions describing jury members as “robust and responsible”, not “fragile and prone to prejudice”. But it warns that the availability of internet databases posed new problems for protecting jurors from prejudicial information.

Could that mean sequestering the jury – staying at hotels, not at home – for the whole trial, to keep it away from outside influences? Would that happen at all trials, or just the ones that attracted massive media attention?

One of the court decisions suggested keeping juries together during the proceedings would protect the open court principle and avoid prejudice. The accommodation costs in a long hearing, and the associated pressure to avoid mistrials, would be very likely to create their own problems.

What are your thoughts readers?

New technology, the media and criminal trials – Let’s talk about it


Here is an interesting article folks that I found that comes at a time when the media and the internet are colliding with the long-held protocols of the old school legal system of the last century, who needs to catch up with who I wonder?

Where are we headed with blogs like this? the instant twitter commentary from courtrooms, the insatiable thirst for the information, good bad or ugly. You all know I am a believer of  Major Trials being telecast to those who want to and indeed need to watch them. Just like some have an interest in Question Time in Parliament and some do not. make it available, what is there to hide?

By Peter Gregory

July 06 2012

Are we now behind the times?

On an overseas crime website was the personal and criminal history of a man known to the Victorian public.

At the time, he was before the courts on a serious charge. The trial judge had warned jurors not to look up the internet, because they were to return a verdict only on the evidence they saw or heard in the courtroom.

Put simply, the judge’s warning was part of delivering a fair trial. If accused of crime, you are judged by a jury of your peers.

They base their decision on the material presented to them in the courtroom. Almost always, that means no reference to the previous convictions of the person on trial, or neighbourhood gossip about a case, or the wise pronouncements of media commentators.

The legal system’s assumption is that jurors, not being trained as lawyers, will find it harder to put aside prejudicial information. If you were a juror on a rape trial, and learned that the accused person had been convicted (separately) of rape six months earlier, what would you think about this case?

“Guilty,” said one student when this question was posed during a seminar some years ago. That is why jury members are told not to follow media reports, do their own research, or talk to their families about the case. They are also instructed to be wary of social media, like Twitter or Facebook.

“If your family is like mine, everyone will have an expert opinion,” one judge would say at the start of a Supreme Court trial.

“You can blame me. If they ask about the evidence, you can say the judge told you that you are not allowed to discuss it.”

Journalists would get very nervous about their court stories, fearing they might be fined or worse if they revealed information that the courts believed was likely to be prejudicial.

In one case, five media organisations were fined a collective $670,000 after reporting that a man arrested over three New South Wales murders in 1989 had confessed. The reports were likely to interfere with the administration of justice, it was found.

These were simpler times when a big worry for publishers was the potential to mix up the conservative court story written for local audiences with a more comprehensive account prepared for interstate editions.

If the Victorian jury was protected from prejudice, all was well. If a stuff-up occurred, media lawyers were sent to court to apologise.

More than 20 years later, safety and conservatism sound like foreign concepts.

The crime website which featured the Victorian suspect was not the worst by any means. True, its advertisements for criminal-related merchandise, including DVDs, calendars and magazines, was distracting, but his segment was a fairly sober summary of his court appearances, material from interviews and legal debate about his future.

Numerous other websites talk about criminals and killers. Some are moderate and feature court decisions. Others appear to follow the “hang ‘em high” school, practised with or without a trial.

Still wary of the legal process, mainstream media websites monitor or ban comments being made about court-related stories.

Inflammatory remarks can raise difficulties for many institutions which have embraced social media and the internet to engage with the public.

Bond University professor Mark Pearson recently analysed problems with the Queensland Police Facebook site, which was flooded with hard-nosed commentary following a high-profile arrest.
“I fear it will not be long before a savvy defence lawyer seizes the opportunity to use such prejudicial commentary as grounds for appeal, perhaps resulting in a trial being aborted at great public expense or even a verdict quashed,” he told The Australian newspaper.

So, what can the courts do?

Last month, the New South Wales Criminal Court of Appeal allowed a media challenge to court orders that would have forced news websites to remove thousands of archived stories about a conspiracy to murder trial. The Sydney Morning Herald said the court upheld the argument that the orders were futile because “vast swathes of information on the internet are essentially beyond the court’s control”.

“It is something of an irony that the (media organisations)…are, on one view, the only people against whom an order could properly have been made,” the court said in its published judgment.

While NSW law might let prosecuting authorities seek suppression orders over prejudicial material published online by local media, that permission could not validly apply to the world at large.

Suppression orders might cover material on internet sites beyond the control or awareness of local publishers.

Imagine the SMH finding all the international crime websites, and persuading them to take down some of their murder summaries because an Australian prosecutor was worried about them.

A Law Council of Australia committee, of which this writer is a member, outlined some other problems in a submission made to the Federal Government.

The media and communications committee said information could not be effectively censored or removed once it was available online. Material was often republished or cached on other sites. Monitoring archives for past publications would be costly and a significant exercise, and in many cases would have little practical effect, the committee argued.

Removing mainstream material might also bump the relevant information contained on less reputable websites up the search engine list for determined researchers.

“Suppression and non-publication orders that that operate to censor or remove historical reports by mainstream media organisations can lead to (the other) websites being elevated in lists of search results carried out, for instance, on the names of accused persons, and thus perversely increase the risk of prejudice to forthcoming trials,” the committee said.

If censoring the media does not work, the focus returns to juries. Jurors can be fined for looking up the internet during trials, if they decide to ignore judges’ warnings.

On its website, the Judicial College of Victoria has quoted court decisions describing jury members as “robust and responsible”, not “fragile and prone to prejudice”. But it warns that the availability of internet databases posed new problems for protecting jurors from prejudicial information.

Could that mean sequestering the jury – staying at hotels, not at home – for the whole trial, to keep it away from outside influences? Would that happen at all trials, or just the ones that attracted massive media attention?

One of the court decisions suggested keeping juries together during the proceedings would protect the open court principle and avoid prejudice. The accommodation costs in a long hearing, and the associated pressure to avoid mistrials, would be very likely to create their own problems.

What are your thoughts readers?