David Eastman to sue ACT for wrongful imprisonment

David Eastman to sue ACT for wrongful imprisonment

David Harold Eastman is suing the ACT government for wrongful imprisonment.

An ACT Supreme Court suit alleges Eastman is eligible for compensation under the Human Rights Act.

David Eastman spent almost 19 years behind bars before having his conviction for the murder of ACT police chief Colin Stanley Winchester quashed.

David Eastman spent almost 19 years behind bars before having his conviction for the murder of ACT police chief Colin Stanley Winchester quashed.Credit:Graham Tidy

Attorney-General Simon Corbell confirmed he was aware of the litigation, but declined to comment on the case as it was before the courts.

Lawyers have previously speculated that Eastman could be eligible for millions of dollars in compensation if he were to pursue a payout.


Eastman spent 18 years, nine months, and 12 days (6860 days) behind bars for the murder of Australian Federal Police Assistant Commissioner Colin Winchester in 1989.

Last year, an inquiry found his 1995 trial had been a miscarriage of justice, and the full bench of the ACT Supreme Court subsequently quashed his conviction.

Canberra prosecutors intend to retry Eastman, but he has launched a stay application to halt the case – on the grounds he will not be able to get a fair hearing – before it can go before a jury.

The stay application is listed to be heard before Acting Justice David Ashley, QC, in February.

Court papers, filed by Eastman's lawyers, Ken Cush and Associates, last week, said the civil claim came as a result of their client's unlawful detention and wrongful conviction.

It alleged the former Treasury official's imprisonment caused him deprivation of liberty, lost income, to suffer mental harm, damage to his reputation, and he had expended legal cost and time in fighting to reverse his conviction.

Eastman alleges the territory is liable to pay him compensation for his unlawful detention under two sections of the Human Rights Act.

He has also asked for interest and costs.

"[Eastman's] imprisonment and detention was unlawful by reason that the deprivation of his liberty was not on grounds or in accordance with procedures established by law," court documents said.

The government is yet to file a defence.

The case is listed for directions in late October.

It is understood Eastman has not received an ex gratia payment – a one-off payment when the government is prepared to compensate a person, but not admit liability – but was provided assistance upon release.

The government Throughcare program helps all ex-prisoners with housing, health, financial advice and other rehabilitation, including reconnection with family and friends.

Mr Corbell said: "ACT Corrective Services has provided Mr Eastman with the same support as all other detainees who have been released from the Alexander Maconochie Centre, including access to the Extended Throughcare program, to support his transition back into the community, while on bail.

"Due to privacy considerations, I have no other comments to make regarding Mr Eastman's personal situation."

The suit follows a number of payouts for unlawful imprisonment in other high profile Australian cases.

Eastman was locked up longer than Perth man Andrew Mallard, who received a $3.25 million payout in 2009 after serving 12 years for a murder he did not commit.

Mr Mallard, who was cleared in 2006, also received an ex gratia payment of $200,000 upon his release.

Alice Lynne "Lindy" Chamberlain got a payout of $1.3 million in compensation in 1992 after she spent about three years behind bars for the death of her nine-week old daughter, Azaria, at Uluru in 1980.

A coronial inquest in 2012 found a dingo had killed the child.

John Button was granted a $400,000 ex gratia payment after he was wrongly convicted of manslaughter over the hit-and-run death of his 17-year-old girlfriend Rosemary Anderson.

Mr Button had just turned 19 in 1963 when he was sent to Fremantle Prison for five years.

He was exonerated in 2002 at age 56 when a West Australian court ruled that Ms Anderson had actually been murdered by serial killer Eric Edgar Cooke.

Despite the pardon, Mr Button is still fighting for an apology and compensation for his wrongful imprisonment, even with clear evidence showing flaws in the investigation.

Michael Inman is a courts reporter for The Canberra Times

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