It's hard to conceive the amount of adjustment that an innocent person, who had been convicted of the rape and murder of a toddler and imprisoned for 32 years, would have to make to re-enter the outside world. The rigours of prison life are speculated about by outsiders, but it's a well known fact that people with a conviction such as this experience a different kind of treatment from prisoners, and from guards. So far as worst case scenarios of wrongful convictions are concerned - the case of Andre Davis has got to take the cake. It is similarly hard to reconcile a system of "justice" in which a person can be wrongfully imprisoned for as long as 32 years. Lindy Chamberlain in her recent visit to Perth for the International Justice Conference spoke at length about the sensationalist witchhunt the media orchestrated resulting in her 30-year injustice.
The Illinois justice system sold a convenient conviction to an absorbent public, no doubt via the media, and the public bought it - probably around an election time. Andre Davis must have faced extreme hardship and vilification for those 32 years, all because the Illinois Police wanted to knock off early that day. How could someone in Davis' position possibly fit in to a society that mistreated him, at the hands of police, and in court, and everyday since, so wickedly and so brutally, for all these decades, with one trial aborted and another finding the DNA evidence didn't match. How can such a grievous act of injustice ever be amended? For society, the injustice goes deeper than the prosecution of an innocent man - with the perpetrators of the horrendous offence still at large and free to reoffend against little girls for the last 32 years, as a result of inept justice processes and how many others have been framed up for their crimes since then?
Is the power that police and prosecutors wield, too much power for any department to have and why is it left up to a private sector group - the Innocence Project - to be the public sector watchdog?
Even in simple daily reporting duties journalists can play an easy role in ensuring the public don't get sold yarns like the one spun about Davis, who virtually had his life stolen from him in the most awful, indelible and unjust manner. Journos can "just say no" to regurgitating government spin and statements as if they were fact, and they can treat government sources the same way as other sources, and they can check the facts with reliable sources, court transcripts and documentation, and that provides just another point at which justice system mistakes(or on purposes) can be caught. A legal obligation should exist for journalists to be qualified and registered with the AJA or compliant with some enforceable code of ethics. This was how the Code of Ethics read from 1944-84 before the rise of Australia's media moguls, who monopolised the industry and shifted almost all the media's focus primarily to producing revenue.
Where is the government funding to check, and double check, major convictions, particularly of vilified minority people, who more often than not, have to rely on yet more inadequate government funding, for their legal defence?
In the North-West of Western Australia and in the Northern Territory the deaf and hard of hearing make up a significant proportion of the prison populations - latest figures from the NT show that 19 out of 20 Indigenous inmates, only have their ear disease and hearing impairments detected after sentencing, that is, obviously, well after their arrest and the court process - the interrogation transcripts would be interesting reading. Those regions are also the areas of Australia that have historically had the densest diversity of Indigenous languages.
Last year Senator Siewert discussed the emergence of "hand talk" sign language dialects in communities that are losing their languages, but one of the difficulties that has faced Indigenous people in these linguistically diverse regions, is the lack of appropriate court services, translators, multi-lingual lawyers or even judges, who could speak their language - thus leaving this huge number of people to be sentenced in courts where they simply can not know what on earth is going on and cannot participate in the court process, effectively.
The right to know what you are being charged with, and tried for - to know how to plead, and also to be able to speak your own language, are rights enshrined in international law. These are rights which Australia, and West Australia more specifically, has never made appropriate efforts to respect. So where is Australia's adherence to its own laws and is this massive demonstration of the most vast inequity and discrimination enough proof that the state-based justice systems require the nationwide roll out of independent criminal cases review commissions?
The "unnamed" source's comments below about flawed DNA use in the Davis story are fair enough, although a bit simplistic and might be limited only to metropolitan NSW, it would seem. They give the impression that there's "nothing to see here - just move along madam," in other words, "our policing system is an infallable and just mechanism that needs no tweaking," or, "these are not the droids your looking for," or, "it's not our fault," and, an oldie but a goodie - "we didn't do nuttin..."
"Australia has not experienced a similar ratio of wrongful convictions being overturned after DNA testing and is unlikely to do so in the future, according to a senior NSW forensic expert, who asked not to be identified.
Unlike the US, forensic laboratories in Australia are more heavily regulated and testing standards are higher, he said.
"We run an extremely thorough and accurate system in Australia where laboratories became accredited very early on.
"Australian [forensic investigative] laboratories are all state run laboratories ... They're all government run and they're all very well run. That's probably why we don't have the issues of the amount of people found guilty in certain crimes then to be found innocent with DNA. I don't think we had the issues they had in America with the vast separation and the vast number of laboratories that were set up over there, and many of them weren't accredited."
However, aware of the long history of wrongful convictions via the use of flawed DNA in Australia, Bossi wisely, albeit anecdotally, cites just a few "notorious" DNA wrongful conviction cases, and probably did not have the time amid a busy journalist's workload or enough space to list the hundreds that have occurred across the states(and very notably, in NSW) and the thousands of more general wrongful convictions that are not DNA-related, which are just quiet unreported everyday occurrences - like the extraordinary case of Matt Smith in Perth last year, whose conviction was not overturned until he had already completed his time for the wilful possession of a substance that wasn't, as it turns out, drugs.
In the early implementation of DNA testing three states stood head and shoulders above the others for (established) flawed forensic processes, and, for those in SA, very few have been able to be overturned. Edward Splatt can thank his lucky stars for the likes of Stewart Cockburn(RIP), who was a copy boy at the time Rupert Murdoch got himself into hot water over the wrongful conviction of Rupert Max Stewart.
South Australia at present has the Criminal Cases Review Committee Bill(2011) progressing through parliament, having gone through an inquiry, and the proposed law acknowledges the flaws in Australia's diabolically useless "justice" system, finally, and seeks to put in place some checks and balances to scrutinize cases where an unsafe conviction may have occurred. It also addresses the inadequacies of the process to seek leave for an appeal in that state. AHRC's submission is accessible here and may offer just a little insight into the issues involved.