Recent Change to Criminal Appeal Laws
Western Australians who have been convicted of serious crimes will be able to pursue more direct avenues for appeal, with a change to state laws passed recently.
New legislation allows individuals to make a second or subsequent challenge to their conviction if new, compelling evidence emerges.
Prior to now, convicted criminals had no further right to appeal even if new evidence came to light which could potentially exonerate them or demonstrate that a miscarriage of justice had occurred.
Direct applications to the Court of Appeal
The process required that criminals ask the Western Australian attorney-general to refer the case to the Court of Appeal or petition the governor for mercy.
New laws mean that criminals can now present their cases directly to the Court of Appeal, which is what occurs in other states around Australia, including New South Wales.
The new legislation was prompted by two prominent cases –
1. The acquittal of Scott Austic who had been found guilty of the murder of his partner Stacey Thorne and spent 13 years behind bars as an innocent man. He was acquitted after it was discovered that someone had planted crucial evidence against him. There are now calls for the investigation to be re-opened so that Stacy’s real killer can be found.
2. Similarly, Andrew Mallard was wrongly imprisoned for more than a decade over the 1994 death of Perth jeweler Pamela Lawrence. He eventually had his conviction quashed after journalist Colleen Egan investigated the case alongside then-WA shadow attorney-general John Quigley, bringing some procedural errors to light along with crucial evidence that was not disclosed at trial. Mr Mallard was freed in 2006.
Maintaining the integrity of the justice system
While many people believe that when a person has been convicted of a crime, they should serve their sentence, it’s important that we have faith in the justice system. Most Australians do have a significant amount of trust in it, but miscarriages of justice and wrongful convictions have been known to occur.
When they do, the wrongly convicted deserve the opportunity to be able to access appeal more easily, and the new laws allow that.
About the Court of Appeal
The Court of Appeal is a division of the Supreme Court. It was established on 1 February 2005 and follows the Supreme Court (Court of Appeal) Rules 2005.
The Court of Appeal hears appeals from decisions of a single Judge of the Supreme Court and from Judges of the District Court as well as various other courts and tribunals. It also hears criminal appeals against sentences and convictions.
The matters that the Court of Appeal can determine are set out in section 58 of the Supreme Court Act 1935 (WA). Usually matters in the Court of Appeal will be determined by a panel of three judges.
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