If you have ever seen the 1999 thriller ‘Double Jeopardy’ you may have an idea what is meant by the principle double-jeopardy. For those who are not Tommy Lee Jones fans, double jeopardy is the well-known legal principal that provides that no-one may be tried twice for an offence for which they have already been acquitted. Of course the movie has used some poetic licence for dramatic effect, but the basic principle that one cannot be tried twice for the same crime remains the same, and has done for centuries across the legal systems of many countries around the world.
In Australia each state and territory has incorporated the double-jeopardy rule into its own legislation, which means it is slightly varied state by state. This month, Attorney-General Simon Corbell introduced a bill to the Legislative Assembly that would change the double-jeopardy laws in the ACT.
The proposed new laws would allow prosecutors to be able to use fresh evidence to retry people previously acquitted of serious crimes. Attorney-General Corbell stated that the laws would affect anyone acquitted of a crime that carries a life sentence, such as murder, if there is “fresh or compelling evidence that has arisen that clearly proves the person’s guilt”. The laws would also affect anyone acquitted of an offence punishable by imprisonment of 15 years or more if the prosecution can show the trial was tainted, for example, by perjury or interference with a juror or witness.
Changes surrounding fresh evidence are most likely to occur in instances when advances in DNA technology reveal fresh evidence in old cases.
The bill is expected to return to the ACT Legislative Assembly next month.