LEGAL AID FOR CRIMINAL APPEALS
Reverend the Hon. F. J. NILE: I ask the Attorney General and Minister for Justice a question without notice. Is it a fact that the Legal Aid Commission has provided legal aid for both the trial of the murderer of nine-year-old Ebony Simpson and for the drawn out appeal before the Court of Criminal Appeal? How much legal aid has been provided for Ebony Simpson's murderer for his trial? How much legal aid has been provided for his baseless appeal, which has caused so much mental anguish and trauma to Ebony's parents, her brother and family members? Will the Government review the Legal Aid Commission's funding of this disgraceful appeal, which was on the basis that "it was not a murder of the worst kind", when the court has only the murderer's own version of the murder details -
The PRESIDENT: Order! I draw the attention of the honourable member to the fact that he has said in his question that this matter is on appeal before the courts of the State. The honourable member must take great care not to breach the sub judice rule.
Reverend the Hon. F. J. NILE: The appeal has been concluded. To complete the question, the court has only the murderer's own version of the murder details as no witnesses were present.
The Hon. J. P. HANNAFORD: As the honourable member said, the matter has been before the Court of Appeal and we are awaiting a judgment. However, I am happy to make available the same information that I made available to the House last week on this same matter and which I also made available to Ebony Simpson's parents when I attended a meeting of a number of families of victims of homicide. The group, which is known as the victims of homicide support group, and which was established by Garry Lynch, is provided with support facilities out of the Coroners Court.
The group is provided with counselling support services by the Department of Health. The counsellors are funded by that department and operate out of the Coroners Court directly to supply support to families of victims of homicide. As I have said on a number of occasions, legal aid is determined by the Legal Aid Commission. Provided the applicant meets the guidelines, he or she is provided with legal aid. Provided the guidelines are sustained, he or she will be provided with legal aid for an appeal.
Reverend the Hon. F. J. Nile: How much?
The Hon. J. P. HANNAFORD: I do not have the slightest idea of the amount of money provided. I will find out whether that information is available. All honourable members must recognise that under our system of law there is provision for a number of checks and balances within the system of justice, which are available both for the benefit of the community and for the benefit of an accused person; parties must face a committal or a jury trial and in order to ensure that there are appropriate checks and balances in all these processes there is an avenue of appeal to the Court of Appeal.
The Court of Appeal is available to the prosecution and to the defence. The defence is able to appeal against the conviction on the basis that the conviction may be against the evidence or that the jury may have been improperly directed in relation to reaching their verdict, or there may be an appeal against the sentence. In this matter the appeal was against the sentence. It is also open to the prosecution to appeal against the leniency of a sentence. Under our system of justice it is not open for a prosecution to appeal against an acquittal by the jury because the jury is established as a group of 12 of our peers to determine whether, on the evidence available, an offence has been committed beyond reasonable doubt.
I say to all members of the House - and I say this with a word of caution - that within the community at present some elements of the news media are prepared to sensationalise individual court cases and there may be a temptation on the part of all of us to jump in on those cases. Where comments have been made about penalties relating to criminal matters the Director of Public Prosecutions will review those penalties. We must be careful not to make any comments that might lead people to believe that their right to appeal has been impeded.