Chief withdraws from Morcombe murder appeal

Chief Justice Tim Carmody
Chief Justice Tim Carmody Rae Wilson

CHIEF Justice Tim Carmody has recused himself from a bias hearing that he labelled a "bizarre side show" and "an exorbitant waste of public time and money".

He told the Queensland Court of Appeal that he stepped down from the hearing - related to the Daniel Morcombe murder appeal - with great reluctance.

While he called it "regrettable in the extreme", Justice Carmody said he believed he must disqualify himself from hearing apprehended bias allegations against him "to preserve public confidence in the administration of justice".

Lawyers for Brett Peter Cowan, who was convicted last year of murdering Daniel on the Sunshine Coast, are arguing Justice Carmody showed bias when he had a meeting on April 15 with child protection advocate Hetty Johnston, who has spoken publicly against Cowan.

Brett Peter Cowan
Brett Peter Cowan

Justice Carmody was one of three justices who heard Cowan's appeal in November, with judgment yet to be handed down.

He took aim at Cowan's legal team before he recused himself from any further involvement in the case.

"If this absurd and extraordinary application continues, there will be further hearings on applications of pre-judgment regarding the procedure governing bias or pre-judgment regarding whether or not I am disqualified for bias," Justice Carmody said.

"This will result in an exorbitant waste of public time and money, and the only persons who will benefit are the legal practitioners involved.

"The parents of the victim of this dreadful crime will have justice delayed, and placed in a position of continued uncertainty until these applications are resolved.

"The appellant himself will be placed in a position of continued uncertainty."

Justice Carmody said he feared the "unmeritorious" application would descend into a legal minefield with parties "tripping over one another" on precedents and technicalities and "making mountains of costly nonsense".

He said the hearings would become so complicated that no "man or woman alive knows what it means".

"Although judicial officers should not too readily disqualify themselves, to prevent this unmeritorious application from continuing for generations, it is in the best interests of this court and the overall public confidence in the administration of justice that I withdraw instead of prolonging this bizarre side show," he said.

"I do so with great reluctance, a heavy heart and the deepest feeling of regret, for I do not wish to delay even further, if avoidable, justice to the Morcombes or the appellant."

The bias hearing has been set down for May 26 where appeal court president Margaret McMurdo and Justice Hugh Fraser are now expected to hear the allegations without Justice Carmody.

Depending on the outcome of that, there is a chance the pair could hand down their judgments which are already complete.

Another option is that the appeal must be heard afresh before new judges.

Bravehearts founder Hetty Johnston reiterated her stance outside the court complex that Cowan was "scum of the earth" and should never be release.

She suggested her comments had just as much impact on the two other justices sitting on the case, refusing to accept there was bias perception from meeting with Justice Carmody.

Ms Johnston said what had occurred was a travesty when she had only met Justice Carmody to discuss child protection reforms related to his inquiry.

"This is such a waste of taxpayer money. There's no reason behind any of this. There's no logic in it," she said of the bias hearings.

"It's a legal system having gone absolutely stark raving mad and the only person in that courtroom who made any sense at all today was Tim Carmody - the only person who cared about the people - us.

"He stepped aside because he didn't want to put the Morcombes through this forensic-deep dive into the legislation.

"I just don't understand how the legal system can let the community down so deeply. Are they so entrenched in their own in-fighting that they've lost sight of what it is that they are there to do? That's how it feels to me."

Cowan's lawyer Tim Meehan said the Chief Justice's withdrawal was an unexpected development in the case but it was the outcome his team had sought.

He denied asking seeking that outcome was the result of a spat between legal eagles, a question the Morcombes have raised given Justice Carmody's controversial appointment.

Mr Meehan said the Court of Appeal had raised this issue, not his team.

"It wasn't an issue that was raised by me or my team. It wasn't raised by the Attorney-General, it wasn't raised by the Crown. It was raised by the president of the Court of Appeal," he said.

"All we want for our client is that his matters be dealt with in the correct way.

"The delay isn't good for anyone. One must wonder why it's taken so long for a judgment to be delivered.

"If one had been delivered expeditiously, none of us would be standing here today."

Mr Meehan said the hearing on May 26 would "effectively decide whether or not the remaining two judges can deliver the judgments that they've already written in relation to the matter".

Ms Johnston said she feared this development meant that advocates like herself could not see "this elitist judiciary".

"Who else can't I see sitting in ivory towers somewhere totally out of touch with the community?" she questioned.

"No wonder victims feel so disempowered by this very powerful system that is abusing its power."




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