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Criminologist talks about miscarriages of justice


6 May 2004
One of Australia’s leading criminologists and an advocate for many victims of wrongful convictions, including Lindy Chamberlain, will present the next seminar in Southern Cross University’s Doing Justice Seminar Series on Wednesday, May 12.

Professor Paul Wilson (OAM), the Chair of Criminology at Bond University and a former acting director of the Australian Institute of Criminology, will present the public lecture ‘The Miscarriage of Justice’ at SCU’s Coffs Harbour campus.

Professor Wilson said his research showed that despite new DNA technology and changes in police procedures, there continued to be cases of miscarriage of justice.

“We have just done an analysis of cases pre 1990 and post 1990 and it appears that miscarriages of justice are going on as frequently as they did prior to DNA testing,” Professor Wilson said.

“About 0.5 per cent of all criminal convictions are wrong.”

Professor Wilson said there were a number of possible reasons for the wrong convictions.

“It is not that the police are corrupt but they are determined to get a quick result, especially in high-profile crimes. Part of it is pressure from the mass media, which leads to stereotyping of people such as Lindy Chamberlain. In that case there was almost a mindset that she was guilty - a modern-day witch.”

He said there could also be mistakes made in the collection, storage and interpretation of DNA samples.

Professor Wilson is currently involved in a number of cases in which people are fighting murder and drug convictions. In one of those cases, involving four Japanese tourists convicted of importing drugs into Australia, there were problems associated with interpreting language and culture.

“People don’t care about miscarriages of justice until it occurs to them or people they know, but it’s absolutely devastating for them, their friends and their families. It’s the most soul destroying form of trauma outside of war or severe medical illness.”

He said in Australia there was little recourse for people who had been wrongly convicted and there was an urgent need for a version of the British style Criminal Cases Review Commission, which was introduced in Britain four years ago.

“Appeals are enormously difficult to get up and they are out of reach for a lot of people.”

The seminar will be held in A block, room 1.09 from 12.30pm to 1.30pm on Wednesday, May 12. Professor Wilson and Dr Richard Hil, from SCU’s School of Social Sciences, will also launch the publication, Beyond the Enterprise University: Prospects for Change, at noon.

The next speaker in the Doing Justice Seminar Series, organised by SCU’s School of Social Sciences and TAFE, will be George Negus on May 28.

For information contact Anna Bloemhard on 66593324.

Media contact: Brigid Veale, SCU Media Unit, 66593006 or m. 0439 680 748.