Wednesday, June 20, 2012

On Lindy Chamberlain: Chester Porter QC and John Bryson

Last week, the Northern Territory Coroner finally found that Azaria Chamberlain in fact was taken by a dingo near Uluru some 30 years ago.

But how and why was Lindy Chamberlain ever charged and convicted for murdering her own child?

These questions took me back to the observations of Chester Porter QC, counsel assisting the Morling Royal Commission into Chamberlain convictions, who was interviewed by Richard Fidler on Conversations back in 2007:

Chester Porter is one of Australia's best known barristers, whose nickname at the bar was 'the smiling funnel-web' thanks to his legendary courtesy and forensic charm. He has often spoken out against wrongful convictions and brought to light all the forensic evidence blunders in the Lindy Chamberlain case. His new book is called The Conviction of the Innocent.

Chester also has concerns about the way witnesses and experts are judged on the stand. "There was a Court of Appeal decision [and] by two to one, the judges held that the demeanor of the expert witness could be used to judge whether the expert evidence was correct. Quite apart from experts, to judge any witness by demeanour is very risky."

He also believes a count case can be unfairly manipulated by underhand tactics. "If you appeal to the racial prejudices. If, perchance, you were appearing in court, and the chief witness against your client was an Aboriginal, to see if you could find anything the jury hated about Aboriginals and throw that around, that would be grossly unfair, and improper."

Criminal trials can be enormously stressful for the accused - a fact Chester believes it's important to bear in mind. "Very frequently the accused has to go into the witness box and in most cases, there's a person under enormous strain. It would be a most abnormal person who wasn't almost trembling with fear when they go in the witness box as an accused person."

Listen to the interview here.

Another very close to this subject, and who offers some answer to these questions, is the author of "Evil Angels", John Bryson. He was last Sunday interviewed by Jonathan Green on RN Sunday Extra:

A dingo took my baby. It's taken 32 years, but finally we accept the truth of what happened to Azaria Chamberlain on the night of August 17 1980. The fourth coronial inquest into the death of nine-week-old Azaria concluded last week, at last giving Azaria's parents Lindy and Michael some sort of finality and a death certificate bearing that elusive world 'dingo'. John Bryson, author of Evil Angels, has spent decades poring over the Azaria Chamberlain case, and speaks to us today about the hysteria and controversy the case has inspired.

Listen to the interview here.

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