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Innocence not compensation enough

By Tim Meehan - posted Thursday, 23 March 2006

A recent high profile rape trial in Ipswich, Queensland, has focussed attention on little-publicised flaws in the state’s justice system.

Defendants facing criminal charges have no right to seek reimbursement for their costs if they are found innocent. And if the complainant is a child, tough restrictions on cross-examination effectively hobble the defence and favour the prosecution.

As a criminal defence lawyer, I think it is fundamentally wrong to deny acquitted defendants any recompense for their costs.


Defendants acquitted of a criminal offence should have their full costs reimbursed. It is grossly unfair that people can face expense defending themselves against criminal charges, yet have no right to be reimbursed for their costs.

The issue was brought into sharp focus recently after a jury in the Ipswich District Court rejected nine charges against an Ipswich father, accused of raping his 14-year-old daughter.

The story played out for more than a year, with elements that made it resemble a “Jerry Springer Show” episode. There were rape allegations, a family torn apart, a father in custody, a mother charged with being a party to the offences, and a 14-year-old girl running off to live with a man twice her age.

The media lapped up the scandal but what they did not see was the father incarcerated in custody for three months, or the anguish of parents who knew they had done nothing wrong, but because of their daughter’s allegations, were forced to put their lives and jobs on hold while they fought these accusations.

At the end of the day, after the man, and his wife, who had earlier faced charges related to the case but which were dropped, had been to hell and back, the jury found him not guilty nine times, yet financially he’s entitled to nothing.

District Court and Supreme Court trials cost many tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of dollars. Whether a client funds the trial from their pocket by selling their house, or borrowing from friends and family, or whether Legal Aid (Queensland) must foot the bill, the result is the same - an acquitted person (or Legal Aid) is out of pocket and cannot recover their costs.


The situation is, of course, most crippling for those who must personally fund their trial. What further tips the balance away from an accused is that upon conviction a complainant can make an application for compensation.

In my view people acquitted of a criminal charge should be put back into the same position, at least financially, to before the court process began. The pendulum of the criminal law system has swung too far and there is an imbalance for people whose names have been cleared by the courts.

The Ipswich case made headlines after the 35-year-old Ipswich father was arrested and held in custody for three months, facing charges of rape against his 14-year-old daughter. Applications for bail had been refused, despite the man’s wife saying their daughter made false allegations to remove her father from the home, so she could have a relationship with their 28-year-old neighbour.

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About the Author

Tim Meehan is a Brisbane criminal defence lawyer, and Managing Partner of Brisbane-based national criminal defence law firm Ryan and Bosscher Lawyers.

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