The ACT government will not appeal against a court decision to award David Eastman $7 million for wrongful conviction.
On Monday, in a landmark decision, the ACT Supreme Court ordered the ACT government to pay the former treasury official more than $7 million in compensation, in connection to his conviction for the 1989 murder of Canberra's police chief Colin Winchester.
Mr Eastman's conviction was quashed in 2014 following a judicial inquiry that found he suffered a miscarriage of justice. After a second trial late last year, a jury of 12 found him not guilty of the same charge.
While the government had 28 days to consider its position, Attorney-General Gordon Ramsay said on Tuesday it would not appeal the decision.
"The government will not be initiating an appeal in relation to yesterday's judgment concerning Mr Eastman. It is considering how to deal with any further implications of the decision," he said on social media.
One option available to the government is to try to amend the Human Rights Act.
Mr Eastman's solicitor, Sam Tierney, said while he had not spoken with Mr Eastman he welcomed the announcement and was pleasantly surprised by its speed.
The Government will not be initiating an appeal in relation to yesterday’s judgment concerning Mr Eastman. It is considering how to deal with any further implications of the decision.— Gordon Ramsay MLA (@Gordon_R_Ramsay) October 15, 2019
ACT Bar Association president Steve Whybrow warned against rash decisions in the wake of the judgment in relation to applying it to wrongful imprisonment cases in future.
"This is not only an unusual case, it is probably in Australian legal history a unique case and it's hard to draw precedential value from one decision," Mr Whybrow said.
"I think it would be premature to rush in with a knee-jerk reaction to try and take away this right to compensation under the Human Rights Act based on one extraordinary case where somebody spent nearly 20 years in custody when they shouldn't have."
He suggested a more common circumstance where the law may be applied would be in a case where somebody maintained their innocence and has a conviction overturned based on DNA evidence after the fact.
The United Kingdom, the United States and New Zealand have similar legislation regarding compensation for wrongful imprisonment, Mr Whybrow said, and Justice Elkaim's judgment confirmed the Human Rights Act does indeed offer compensation in specific circumstances.
He was particularly critical of the decision to hold a second trial last year when the review which saw Mr Eastman's conviction quashed recommended against one.
"He'd spent 19 years in custody, the forensic evidence was, by then, 25 years old and discredited and many of the witnesses were 25 years older or deceased," he said.
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- David Eastman wants $18 million in compensation for wrongful imprisonment
- If David Eastman didn't murder Colin Winchester, then who did?
- David Eastman the victim of violent assaults while in prison, compensation trial hears
ACT Human Rights Commissioner Helen Watchirs said she would strongly recommend against the ACT government amending the Human Rights Act and instead follow the United Kingdom's example of a statutory scheme for compensation.
"What the commission has been asking for, for a number of years, was a complaint jurisdiction under the Human Rights Act, similar to the Discrimination Act, where we could conciliate cases," Dr Watchirs said.
"In this particular circumstance a miscarriage of justice compensation scheme would be the solution to avoid having to have a Supreme Court action.
"It would be less convoluted than going under the Human Rights Act, there'd be a scheme that you could apply for administratively without having to go to court."
Speaking on ABC Canberra on Tuesday, Mr Ramsay said the $7 million compensation figure was covered by insurance, and so did not represent a bottom line hit to the budget.