By -

Lawyers, academics, criminal justice professionals, innocence advocates and members of the community have signed an open letter to the NSW Attorney General Michael Daley, seeking reforms to the “no body, no parole” legislation in NSW, because of its impact on wrongfully convicted prisoners.

Kathleen Folbigg and Lindy Chamberlain-Creighton are among the 115 signatories calling for the restoration of the general discretion of the NSW State Parole Authority (SPA) in determination of parole for prisoners convicted of homicide where a body has not been uncovered.

The current “no body, no parole” legislation in NSW was introduced in September 2022 following the highly publicised murder trial of Chris Dawson. The aim of the legislation was to provide closure to the families and friends of homicide victims, however there is insufficient evidence that this has been effective.

According to the Bridge of Hope Innocence Initiative (BOHII) at RMIT University, which organised the open letter, the legislation places wrongfully convicted prisoners in an impossible bind.

As stated in the letter, “no body, no parole laws are disastrous for prisoners who continue to assert their innocence, exacerbating what is commonly called the ‘innocent prisoner’s dilemma’.” The dilemma facing innocent people who are already incarcerated is that if they maintain their innocence and decline to get involved in pre-release programs, which require them to accept responsibility or express remorse, they may be refused parole.

Conversely, if they do engage in pre-release programs, then any acceptance of responsibility or expression of remorse may be perceived as an admission, which will risk any chance they have of having their conviction overturned.

Prior to the 2022 amendments, the SPA was required to consider an offender’s cooperation in disclosing their victim’s remains, but the SPA had a discretion to release an offender on parole. This discretion was removed following the legislative amendments in 2022.

Under the current no body, no parole legislation in NSW, any incarcerated person convicted of a homicide offence who does not satisfactorily assist in police investigations or other steps to identify their victim’s location is denied parole.

However, as the BOHII points out in the open letter, it may be difficult for wrongfully convicted people to satisfy this precondition for parole.

“We are calling for the NSW Government to restore the discretion previously provided to the NSW Parole Authority,” says Professor Michele Ruyters, Director at BOHII.

Ruyters says, “this discretion allows the Authority to consider eligibility for parole on a case-by-case basis, providing scope for wrongfully convicted prisoners to maintain their innocence.”