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Social Media - Will Justice be done?


Jarryd Hayne and Trent Robinson happen to be at the same bar at the same time. So too is former Australian soccer player Robbie Slater. All of a sudden "word" gets out that the Hayne-Plane is leaving the NFL and joining the Roosters. Hayne's response    "This is all time (no doubt an American saying). You say hello to a coach and media make a story out of it".
 
Come on Hayne-Plane; you were speaking with the guy; don't now tell us you're not leaving the NFL to come back to the Roosters!!
 
All too often we are quick to jump to conclusions. All too often we are ill-informed - or not informed at all - when jumping to these conclusions. 
 
And so the same can be said about our legal system. Case in point is the recent "down-grading" of Baden-Clay's murder conviction to manslaughter by the Queensland Court of Appeal. Before I go any further, let me make it clear I do not in any way condone the use of violence - full stop!  And actions should have the consequences fully felt.
 
It is interesting however to note the many hundreds (or is it thousands) of "social media commentators" who have expressed an opinion on the Court of Appeal's decision; most of it citing outrage and injustice to "downgrade" the murder conviction. 
 
What has to be remembered is that the trial at first instance heard evidence from many many witnesses over the course of many many days. Prior to the trial of course was an enormous amount of police investigation and forensics work. And whilst the Baden-Clay case attracted unprecedented media coverage, it would be beyond impossible for the media to report on all of the evidence presented in the case. Yet somehow a large number of social media commentators are outraged at how the Court of Appeal could get is soooo wrong. The Appeal was heard by three extremely capable and vastly experienced Judges - Judges who are vastly experienced in the interpretation and application of the law. 

One of the grounds argued by Baden-Clay was that the verdict was unreasonable because the jury could not properly have been satisfied of the necessary intent for murder – where a reasonably open hypothesis was that the deceased had scratched the appellant (Baden-Clay) in the course of a physical confrontation; the appellant had killed her unintentionally; and his subsequent conduct was attributable to panic.

On re-visiting the case and interpreting and applying the law, the Court of Appeal Judges agreed that the murder verdict was unreasonable. 
 
President of the Queensland Law Society, Mr Bill Potts in a recent media release also highlighted the issue of social media in high profile cases. Mr Potts said the use of social media in these instances had to be carefully considered to ensure that justice was not impeded.

“I understand that the public uses social media as a safety valve during highly emotional circumstances. However, there is real danger that words spoken out of anger may influence potential jurors,” he said. “Justice must be done in the courts and not on the internet”
 
There are very good reasons why the standard of proof in criminal trials is "beyond reasonable doubt". The  evidence against Baden Clay highlighted certain moral shortcomings. The evidence shows he killed his wife. The evidence shows he tried to get away with killing his wife. What the evidence failed to show beyond reasonable doubt - in the opinion of the three appeal judges - is that he set out to intentionally kill his wife; that he is a murderer. This is why in our legal system there is an offence of manslaughter. 
 
And finally, it is important to note that many legal commentators were surprised at the original murder verdict – and those same commentators were not surprised when the murder conviction was "downgraded" to manslaughter.  In law as in life, mistakes can happen – that’s the whole reason we have the appeal court. 


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