Lawyer defends ancient principle

By Lawyers Weekly|03 March 2012

A BRISBANE criminal law expert has welcomed plans to shelve the abolition of the legal principle of double jeopardy in Queensland.Michael Bosscher, of Brisbane based firm Ryan and Bosscher…

A BRISBANE criminal law expert has welcomed plans to shelve the abolition of the legal principle of double jeopardy in Queensland.

Michael Bosscher, of Brisbane based firm Ryan and Bosscher Lawyers, said last week Queensland’s talk of modernising the principle of double jeopardy was “fraught with potential risks”. The recent confirmation to abolish these plans was a “commonsense move”, he said.

Queensland Attorney-General Rod Welford last week confirmed the issue had slipped off the Government’s agenda, citing as the reasoning a lack of national agreement on how the ancient rule should be reformed.

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Welford told The Courier Mail that while there were some aspects of the reform he was “prepared to have a look at”, there were also “other priorities”.

Bosscher said this was a welcome move. There was potential for abuse by removing the 800 year-old principle, which prevents people acquitted of serious crimes from being re-tried for them, he said.

“If a person accused of a serious crime is acquitted, they are entitled to have some certainty in their future. The double jeopardy principle gives them that. If you take that away, we could see a situation where the prosecution can’t prove its case, and has another go until they find a decision they like,” Bosscher said.

Criminal defence lawyers feared that once a long-established rule was changed, it would be easy to change it again down the track, he said. He said it should not become a signal for lazy policing or a slap-dash prosecution in the knowledge you could have another go at the defendant.

“Historically, justice has been served by the double jeopardy principle even though there will always be rare examples where it may have worked in a defendant’s favour. We don’t condone that, but criminal lawyers say we should not rush into reforms unless they are carefully thought out,” he said.

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But A-G Welford last week told The Courier Mail he planned to have a look at a number of aspects of the reform of double jeopardy, including the issue of whether a person who has been acquitted could be charged with perjury for lying in their original trial.

State Opposition Leader Lawrence Springborg said in the newspaper report that double jeopardy is an important principle. However, he argued it needed to accommodate modern forensic and medical evidence.

Lawyer defends ancient principle
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