Three years in jail without trial. India? Africa? China? Russia? No: Australia

The death of a prisoner in a Queensland jail prompts the question: why was he still awaiting trial after almost three years inside? The evidence seems to point to Cartledge's involvement in Ms Rigg's death. But what if he was innocent?

What do we know about Adam Cartledge? Not a lot except that police reckon he murdered his ex-girlfriend, Michelle Rigg. His best friend, a bloke named Arran Jeffries, couldn't believe it when his mate was charged. saying he was "not a violent person" Whether he changed his mind when Cartledge allegedly led police to her body in a shallow grave is not recorded.

However, we do know is that all this happened almost three years ago, Rigg, 28, was reported missing on November 26, 2007, three days alter she disappeared from a duplex she shared with Cartledge, 39. Cartledge appeared in Southport Magistrates Court on December 3, 2007, charged with her murder.

Last Tuesday, Cartledge was found dead in his cell at Arthur Gorrie Correctional Centre. The cause has not yet been made public but there are no suspicious circumstances. But there are disgraceful circumstances because Cartledge was still being held awaiting trial almost three years after he was arrested. He wasn't due to appear in court again until June next year.

He may have been a vicious killer but the fact is that he hadn't been found guilty of anything - not even jaywalking - yet he had been banged up in prison for almost three years. A legal maxim has it that justice delayed is justice denied. Cartledge wasn't just denied justice, he didn't even catch a glimpse of it.

And, somewhere, are family and friends who will never see Ms Rigg's memory receive justice. Cartledge, Ms Rigg and the community have been badly served by a system that allowed this to happen. The original police inquiry was pretty standard, with Cartledge charged fairly pronto and Ms Rigg's remains found not long after. Yet, it was almost a year later that Cartledge appeared in court and was committed for trial.

In February this year - you do the sums - he appeared in the Supreme Court before Justice Peter Applegarth. There, prosecutor Belinda Merrin was granted an adjournment on behalf of both the Crown and the defence so a singlet found on Ms Rigg's body could be further examined and a pathologists report could be gathered. This would take six months!

What choice did Justice Applegarth have, when both the Crown and the defence sought the adjournment in the pursuit of justice as they saw it? The best efforts of men and women of intellect, learning, integrity and goodwill unwittingly led to events that delayed justice until eternity.

No one is to blame but we are entitled to wonder about the workloads and/or efficiencies of the courts, the prosecution and the defence that made these delays inevitable. And we are entitled to wonder about the adequacy and the funding of scientific inquiry in Queensland that judicial exhibits and evidence have to be examined in Victoria and take so long

It's not a new issue but it refuses to go away. In this case, the inadequacies have followed a man to his grave. The evidence seems to point to Cartledge's involvement in Ms Rigg's death, or at least in the disposal of her body. It was sufficient for him to be committed for trial. But what if he were innocent? Magna Carta guaranteed: "To no one will we sell, to no one will we refuse or delay, right or justice."

In this case, no rights were sold or refused, but justice was patently denied to both Cartledge and Ms Rigg. And it is denied to many others, with reports that prisoners in Queensland spend on average 6.4 months in custody compared with 5.9 months in Victoria and NSW.

Sympathy for Cartledge will be limited but these sorts of disgraceful delays might be more important to our confidence in the legal system than any passing anger about the fate of a few kiddie-fiddlers. An inquiry is needed if justice is to be anything more than a theoretical concept in Queensland.

The article above by Terry Sweetman appeared (print only) in the Brisbane "Sunday Mail" on 10 October, 2010

1 comment:

  1. spare a thought for the mother whose only child was murdered.


All comments containing Chinese characters will not be published as I do not understand them