Legal Process and Findings

(The jury system) we currently have, has to be the best in the world, because everyone has the opportunity to have their innocence proved.’(one of the jurors in the Chamberlain case, as quoted in the Brisbane Courier Mail, 12 April 1984)

What-Kept-YouAs the Crown Prosecutor in the trial put it, it was a case of simple alternatives: either a dingo took Azaria, or she was murdered by her mother. Sadly, now that Lindy has been exonerated many of those in the police, public, and government who favoured murder seem unwilling to consider their alternate claim; that a dingo was responsible.Many who have no experience with the justice system have the mistaken impression that you basically go in and tell the truth – “put all your cards on the table” – which the judge or jury will see plainly, and justice will be done. In practice it is not so.

The Australian legal system is based on the British Commonwealth law, which says a person is innocent unless proven guilty beyond reasonable doubt. The juror quoted above may not have understood that. Unlike the justice system in some countries, you are not supposed to have to prove your innocence. In the case of one person or business suing another, it is adversarial – one against the other. With Azaria, it was a case of disappearance and presumed death. The coroner’s magistrate holds an inquest to try to determine the cause of the disappearance and death. The role of the Crown[1] is to act as a ‘Minister for Justice’, working with the magistrate to solve the mystery. The police and their forensic labs do much of the evidential research, which is supposed to include everything relevant, and without bias.

It is the Crown’s job to bring to the courtroom all of the evidence and witnesses (including all eyewitnesses and expert opinion) to try to determine the truth, and the evidence is put out for all to see. Because of this, there would not normally be any need for the Chamberlains to have a lawyer. The Crown is not supposed to be against them. They were not accused of anything. But, by the time the first inquest came around, there had already been so much rumour and innuendo, and police advised them to have a lawyer, just to keep watch. If he had any concerns he could make his point, or ask questions. He was not there for defence; he would only be there as an additional check, as it was the goal and duty of the Crown to find out the truth without any bias whatsoever.

The second inquest was quite different. It was totally adversarial, and the Chamberlains had been warned that they would end up going to trial. It has seemed to many that the duty of the Crown to be a ‘minister for justice’ was ignored from that inquest and into the future. Since the decision had been made not to allow the defence to test the evidence, or share any information, not even witness lists, to allow them their legal right to defend themselves, the Chamberlain’s best hope was to use the second inquest to try and learn what angle the Crown would take at the trial. The lines were clear. No longer a ‘minister for justice’, the behaviour of the prosecution was purely tactical – to obtain, and maintain a conviction. Perhaps that is why the government offered Lindy a choice after the second inquest: say she was guilty and go free or continue to insist she was innocent and go to jail. The leaders of the NT government had the upper hand in every respect, and the government treasury to fund it all. In the end, they spent more than four times as much as the Chamberlains did, though the figures quoted in public were much less than the ones submitted to the Royal Commission.

Since they had very little information about what evidence the Crown would bring at the trial the Chamberlains were often at a loss to refute Crown statements as to the meaning of the evidence shown. They knew the Crown scenario was wrong – the car was not ‘awash’ in blood – but they had not been given the chance to examine the evidence and do their own tests as is normal. Indeed, the Chamberlains did not get access to the Crown ‘evidence’ for testing until just prior to the final appeals process. In an extraordinary move, the Northern Territory Attorney General had argued personally before the Territory Supreme Court for evidence to be withheld from the Chamberlains, and it had been granted.

It would appear by information available that some members of the jury had already made up their minds before the trial; at least one juror boasted to neighbours that he was glad he was on the jury so that he could ‘get the bitch’ – a promise which was repeated to the police officers some jurors associated with ‘after work’. Many of the jurors found the trial difficult to understand. The initial vote of twelve jurors was four guilty, four not guilty, and four undecided. (This information was relayed to the Chamberlains, and the media, by someone having looked in the jury room rubbish bins.) Whilst the judge had summed up for acquittal, some had thought he had told them to find Lindy guilty. They found the Crown forensic scientist, Mrs Joy Kuhl, to be very clear, patient, and friendly as she explained all of the substances she had found in the car, which she said was baby’s blood.

The defence scientist, whilst certainly more qualified as a scientist, was a university professor, whom the jury found talked over their heads, using language they did not understand.

Since the Chamberlain defence did not have access to any of the evidence, they had to rely on reading the Crown forensic scientist’s notes. It was quite clear that the tests had been incomplete, and in the case of one test, the inventor of the test said that the Crown had not only done the test wrong, but read it wrong too. But the defence could not say what the substances in the car really were, as they were not allowed to have any of the substances to test themselves. After the trial, they found that one substance said to be blood (the underdash spray), was found in 10% of cars of the same model. If it was really blood from an infant, then a lot of babies had been murdered in the same way across the country. It would seem that, in any case, the car was not ‘awash’ in blood. (Added together, the total of claimed ‘blood’ substances was only 5ml – one teaspoon – anyway.) It came out in the trial that the lab had destroyed the test samples after the findings had been recorded. The Crown testing had used up all the supposed ‘blood’ in testing, and there was none available to the defence anyhow. The jury did not know that the defence had not been allowed to do its own testing, and so at least one juror wrote in their notes, “Why didn’t the defence test the blood in the car? Was it because they didn’t dare take the chance? Or did they, and obviously could not tell us the results?” In the end, it seems that misunderstanding and a very simple premise sealed Lindy’s fate.

One person had gone into the room where the tent was set up to simulate the campsite on the fateful night, which was accurate right down to the amount of light. That person could not see inside the tent, and called the others. They could not see in such dim light either. They concluded that Lindy must have lied when she told the court she could see inside the tent on that night. If she had lied about that, then she must have lied about everything. They went back upstairs and took a vote – all guilty. It never seems to have occurred to them that Lindy had been in the dark for several hours. They had come from a brightly lit room and corridor, and should have allowed their eyes to adjust and they would have been able to see as well as she had, as had the court and media had at the first inquest night view at the actual Ayers Rock campsite.

The Crown apparently did not think that they had proven the Chamberlains guilty; while the jury was out they had approached the defence to enquire as to the amount of compensation the Chamberlains would be suing for.

There was so much wrong with the case that there was never a doubt that an appeal would take place. The appeals process does not go over the evidence. It looks at the process – whether the correct court procedure was followed, and the lawyers had not made accidental or deliberate errors – and what was presented in court, to determine if the jury was entitled, in their best judgement, to find the defendant guilty or not. In other words, was the case presented legally correctly so the jury was entitled to make the decision they had? Whether all of the evidence was available, whether by Crown tactics or even defence mistakes, was never a question in the appeals. Even though some of the appeal judges felt that the verdict of guilty was wrong, they upheld the right of the jury to make the decision they had. If there was any new evidence refuting the claims of the Crown, they could be heard in the appeals court, but only if it was totally new, like the finding of the matinee jacket. It is a subtle distinction. The matinee jacket had never been produced in court, its only claim to existence was by Lindy. Finding it was new evidence. Merely discovering, after her conviction, that the ‘arterial underdash spray’ was in fact sound deadener, and other supposed ‘blood’ substances were milkshake, and copper dust werenot new evidence – the substances had already been discussed in court – and it was only considered additional evidence. It therefore could not be presented in the appeals court. It would have to be referred back to the Northern Territory, who could choose whether to reopen the case or not.

Lindy was ultimately released from prison because of political pressure, and a journalist threatening to expose the way the Northern Territory government of the day had hidden and twisted the truth. Since Lindy had reached the end of all legal avenues available to her, Federal and Territory laws had to be changed to allow for a Royal Commission, and the quashing of the convictions, giving complete exoneration of the Chamberlains.

It is worth noting that only two courts specifically set about to throughly investigate the disappearance, and presumed death of Azaria. They were the first coroner’s inquest, and the Royal Commission – the beginning, and the end, regarding the question of Lindy being responsible for murder. Both were extraordinarily complete in their investigations, and reached the same conclusions – that the Chamberlain’s did not bear any responsibility for their daughter’s death. The first inquest coroner said that the cause of death was by dingo. He also later said that it was probably the easiest decision of his career. The Royal Commission, which wa set up only to determine if the Chamberlains were guilty or not, nevertheless made a statement to indicate that there was very strong evidence to say a dingo was responsible. Both of these legal bodies had full, open investigations. Somewhere between that beginning and end, the truth got lost for a while, except to Lindy and those who fought for her, and for justice.

[1] For those unfamiliar with this term: under the British Commonwealth law system it is the Queen, ie. the ‘Crown’ which is the state/territory/federal government legal designation. A prosecution would then be written as, in this case, Regina [the Queen] v. Chamberlain. In the US it is usually written as State of California vs. Smith.

Further Interest :

Further Reading :

  • Findings and Transcripts

    This page contains links to the Acrobat files. It will ultimately contain all findings and transcripts related to the Chamberlain case, as I find time to scan, correct scanning errors, and collate the original documents. 1984 High Court Appeal finding (pdf, 216kb) 1995 Third Inquest into death of Azaria Chamberlain – Coroner’s Report (pdf, 335kb)

  • Forensic

    The essence of the Crown case was that instead of being taken to the tent and put to bed in her carry cot, Azaria was murdered by her mother, whilst Lindy was sitting in the front seat of their car. They further claimed that Azaria’s body was stuffed into Michael’s camera bag in front of […]

  • Maps

    Some images for points of reference: This is the campsite as it looked on that day. The Chamberlain’s car sits to the left of the tent. The entry of the tent is facing the barbecue area, which can be seen as a dark roofline to the left of the centre tree. There is a timber […]

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