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Court dismisses Eastman's plea

Date

Michael Inman

Convicted murderer David Eastman has served 17 years of a life sentence.

Convicted murderer David Eastman has served 17 years of a life sentence. Photo: Andrew Taylor

Convicted murderer David Harold Eastman's latest bid for freedom has been denied by an ACT court.

Eastman attempted to exploit a legal technicality to claim the territory had unlawfully confined him.

But Justice Hilary Penfold dismissed the application last week.

Eastman had refused to argue his case at a hearing last year.

The decision comes months before the scheduled start of a $2.5 million taxpayer funded inquiry into Eastman's conviction for the murder of Australian Federal Police assistant commissioner Colin Winchester, who was gunned down in his neighbour's driveway in January 1989.

A jury convicted Eastman of the killing in 1995 and he was sentenced to life behind bars.

Eastman has served 17 years of a life sentence, but has always maintained his innocence.

The most recent attempt at liberty included an application for habeas corpus - an ancient legal principle designed to protect people from unjust detention. Habeas corpus - Latin for ''you have the body'' - allows a prisoner to be brought before a court to consider whether detention was legally justified.

If the court was satisfied Eastman had been unlawfully detained, Justice Penfold could order his release on bail or pending determination of the question of lawfulness.

The application was first heard by former acting Supreme Court judge Bernard Teague in 2010 but proceedings were delayed when the judge disqualified himself at Eastman's request. Justice Penfold took over the matter but Eastman refused to argue his case at a hearing in April last year, instead insisting the matter be adjourned.

He subsequently made a written submission but to no avail.

In a decision published last week, Justice Penfold wrote that Eastman had adequate time to prepare arguments on the habeas corpus application.

The judge wrote that the application "should not be repeatedly adjourned until Mr Eastman was inclined (for whatever reason) to re-agitate it".

"Mr Eastman's claims are important to him and no doubt more important to him than the competing considerations are to the defendant or to any of the individuals involved in this matter on the defendant's behalf.

"However, this does not justify Mr Eastman in expecting a court to operate simply as a forum in which his demands will be heard without testing and will be met in full, despite the position or the rights of any other parties, and despite the law.

"Nor would it be proper for any judicial officer to accede to any such approach, despite the abuse and accusations of bias that attempting to resolve matters according to law inevitably seems to elicit from Mr Eastman," the judge wrote.

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