29 April 2004







·             Government slammed for paying ‘lip-service’ to victims’ rights.

·               Move to change law to give victims a direct say in plea bargains.



Victims of crimes – involving the death of loved ones – will speak out today in a bid for sweeping reforms of the plea bargaining process. And at least one of the victims will be scathing about the Attorney-General dismissing the proposed reforms in a letter he sent earlier this year.


The media conference to be held today at 1pm in the Terrace Room (second floor) at Parliament House will have the following ‘victims’ of the plea bargaining system speaking out:


     Carolyn Watkins , the wife of Andrew Watkins, killed on the 22nd June 2001 , whilst cycling home from work after being hit by a car and dragged under it for six kilometres. A plea bargain in that case had the charge dropped from manslaughter to death by dangerous driving despite the objections of Carolyn and her family who believed that key facts should have been before the sentencing Judge (including that her husband was still alive when found by ambulance officers, and the defendant’s swerving over the road for significant parts of the six kilometres.)


    Anne Walsh - whose 22 year old cousin Stacey Lee Brown was shot in the head and killed on the 18th July 2002 . Stacey was brought up by Ms. Walsh’s family and Ms. Walsh was present during plea bargaining discussions with DPP Paul Rofe. Family members complained that the agreed facts did not accord with the available evidence such as the pistol was disposed of and that forensic evidence indicated Stacey was shot at point blank range at eye level – yet the Court was told Stacey was handing back the gun to the defendant with the barrel pointing at her when it fired. The DPP accepted a plea bargain on these facts to a charge of manslaughter rather than murder.

     Diana Glasson – who has not spoken out publicly before – whose 25 year old daughter (and  mother of two) Karina Glasson was killed on the 4th July 2002 when the car she was driving was hit at a Para Hills T-junction by a car that was travelling (according to investigators) between 85kmh to 135kmh in a 60kmh zone. The matter was handled by Police Prosecutions (the DPP’s office was not involved). The solicitor for the defendant arranged for the scheduled court date to be brought forward (which is not uncommon in the Magistrates Court ) for a guilty plea to a charge of driving without due care. The family was not notified, and victim impact statements were never even presented to the Court. It is believed the plea was done without the defendant being present in Court – and he received a $100 fine and no loss of license. (By contrast a speeding camera fine for going 67kmh in a 60kmh zone is in the order of $135.)


Representatives of the three families will speak in support of a Bill that will be introduced into Parliament later this year by No Pokies MLC Nick Xenophon. The Bill – Victims of Crime (Victim Participation in Plea Bargaining etc) Amendment Bill 2003 (copy of Bill will available at media conference) provides for:


· The prosecuting authority (the DPP or the Police) to notify victims of any proposed plea bargain (including the down-grading of charges, and the ‘agreed facts’ to be put to the Court).


· The victim (or where the victim has died – the victim’s family) has seven days to lodge a written objection with the Prosecuting Authority setting out the details of the victim’s objection to the plea bargain.


· The DPP is then required to respond in writing to the objection, and if the objection is not upheld the victim has the right to appeal against the plea bargain to the Administrative and Disciplinary Division of the District Court.


· Reasonable legal costs for an appeal are to be paid for by the State – unless the appeal is ‘frivolous or vexatious’.


“Recent high profile cases (including Nemer and Aitken) has put into sharp focus the need to reform the whole system of plea bargaining – to give victims a real voice, a real say for the first time”.


“Talking about law and order is one thing – delivering a real sense of justice to victims of serious offences is another. These victims have been marginalised for too long from the whole plea bargaining process”.


“The draft Bill provides for clear mechanisms for victims to be informed and to be finally empowered to be part of the plea bargaining process”.


Carolyn Watkins is critical of Attorney-General Michael Atkinson dismissing the proposed reforms in a letter he sent to Mr. Xenophon earlier this year (copy letter available on request).


Mr. Xenophon said that he was “bitterly disappointed” the Attorney-General “so easily dismissed proposed reforms that would at last give victims of crime a real say in the plea bargaining process”.


He also said that the recently released report by Solicitor-General Chris Kourakis on the DPP’s office and plea bargains was “welcome, but the recommendations of plea bargaining does not address the fundamental disempowerment of victims in the current plea bargaining system.”


“The danger with the Solicitor-General’s proposed change to give the Attorney General the right to intervene on advice from Crown Counsel is that such a change could heavily politicise the plea bargaining process rather than having a rigorous and independent process of court review in the proposed Bill.”


“The government’s summary dismissal of this reform package for victims is in stark contrast with it’s rhetoric about victims’ rights.”


Mr. Xenophon has urged victims of crime dissatisfied with the plea bargaining process to come forward in an advertisement he placed in today’s Advertiser.


“The more people that come forward with genuine grievances over the current system, the greater the chance of fundamental reform.”


Written and authorised by Nick Xenophon, 653 Lower North East Road, Paradise, SA 5075