THE QUEENSLAND Parliament has abolished the legal rule of double jeopardy in a shock decision delivered last week.
Under the change, acquitted people can be re-tried for an offence if fresh evidence comes to light or if an original acquittal is tainted.
According to Brisbane criminal defence lawyer, Michael Bosscher, removing the 800-year-old rule — which prevents people being tried twice for the same crime — was a rash manoeuvre.
“Tinkering with the 800-year-old double jeopardy rule is a formula for disaster,” he said. “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.”
Bosscher said the government had sought insufficient input from legal professionals. He said modernising the double jeopardy rule also removed legal certainty and was a shortcut towards undermining the system of justice in Queensland.
“The idea that acquitted people could be tried again if new and compelling evidence emerged is merely a shortcut to prosecutors seeking further retrials until they get the verdict they want,” he said. “Where does that place justice for the accused person? If a court acquits them, they should be entitled to get on with their life, not to have the spectre of retrials hang over their heads for the rest of their lives,” Bosscher said.
Advances in forensic science mean fresh evidence might become available for previously tried cases. Bosscher fears removing the well-established rule may become a “signal for lazy policing and slapdash prosecutions in the knowledge you can have another go at the defendant”.
Bosscher labelled the decision ill-conceived, functioning as a political tool. “This is what happens when law and order becomes a vote-catching issue. It’s not about a fair system of justice; it’s about what might appeal to the voter.”