Australian murder trial aborted over Web site prejudice

An Australian Web site is in the firing line as a judge throws out murder retrial due to bias caused by information released on the site

Two days into a murder retrial, Justice George Hampel of the Victorian Supreme Court discharged the jury and aborted the case on the basis of entries appearing on the Web site CrimeNet, at the risk of unfair prejudice to the accused.

Raising concerns over the accuracy of the information on the Web site, Justice Hampel said in a court statement: "the entries go beyond mere recording of the fact of a previous trial and the two relevant convictions with the sentences."

CrimeNet has found itself in the centre of a huge storm that has erupted over questions being raised about privacy issues relating to the Internet.

"The Attorney General has received advice from Victoria's Director of Public Prosecution (DPP) that CrimeNet has been given notice and that there could be serious sanctions if information on the Internet site continues to interfere with trials in Victoria," said a representative from Attorney General Mr Rob Hulls' office.

The Victorian Director of Public Prosecutions is calling for the site to be closed and cautioned that it is in contempt of court because of the termination of the trial in Victoria.

"The operator has been warned to be very careful about material that is being published," said the spokesperson.

In response to the criticisms surrounding the site, Ken Shultz from CrimeNet said "there are a number of facets that are good about our site, including assisting the police in solving crimes."

"I think it is pretty rich of the DPP threatening and bullying us. There are a number of legal sites out there that are doing exactly the same thing as us -- a number of legal databases, but they don't get bullied by them," said Shultz.

"I think that this is an example of the legal fraternity closing ranks to protect their income. People are paying money to view these records," he said. "To me it is quite unfair," Shultz added.

The case involved comes only two weeks after Justice Hample's decision not to abort a previous murder retrial, his decision based on the differing circumstances of the earlier case.

There has been increased publicity surrounding CrimeNet since his first decision.

"This is a site which is now well-known generally because it has received publicity when it was first designed and made available and there was considerable discussion in the press about its propriety, its value and its dangers," said Justice Hampel.

He also referred to the program released on ABC Radio National on the morning of the trial as further complicating the matter.

"(The program) was about CrimeNet, about the problems with it, about the effect that it may have on juries. It is part of the recent publicity about the CrimeNet site and its problems."

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