A 90-year-old legal precedent that has blocked a compensation claim by a woman wrongly jailed for trying to kill her husband is ‘‘distinctly quirky’’, her lawyer says.
Roseanne Beckett, formerly known as Roseanne Catt, and her supporters took their fight to the High Court yesterday to get the 1924 precedent thrown out, demanding that she finally be given justice.
Ms Beckett wants to sue the state of NSW for malicious prosecution and false imprisonment, but has been told by the NSW Court of Appeal she must first prove her innocence.
In 1991, Ms Beckett was convicted of several counts, including soliciting someone to murder her husband Barry Catt and attempting to poison him.
She was released 10 years later, and in 2005 the Court of Criminal Appeal quashed some of her convictions and ordered a retrial on five counts.
But when the crown decided not to proceed with the retrial, and Ms Beckett attempted to sue, the Court of Appeal said the 90-year-old precedent cast doubt on her innocence.
The courts concluded that the prosecution’s decision not to proceed amounted to a ‘‘nolle prosequi’’ , meaning the issue of innocence was undecided.
Her lawyer, Guy Reynolds SC, told the High Court the precedent offered ‘‘distinctly quirky observations about proof of innocence’’.
Acting for the NSW government, Bret Walker SC, admitted the state might be trying to defend a precedent that would be ‘‘consigned to legal history’’.
However, he said there was ‘‘nothing new, let alone maverick’’ in the 1924 ruling.
The hearing continues.