State legislative amendments introduced shortly after the establishment of the revamped Parole Board Queensland included the particularly controversial – albeit universally welcomed outside of the legal profession – new ‘no body, no parole’ laws.
The laws – which came into effect in August 2017 – received bi-partisan support, with Government and Opposition parliamentarians agreeing that no one convicted of murder, manslaughter, striking causing death, interfering with a corpse or accessory after the fact ever be considered eligible for conditional release back into the community unless they revealed the location and satisfactorily assisted investigators to recover the bodies or remains of their victims.
For obvious reasons, the implementation of these newly minted laws fell into the remit of the reconstituted
Parole Board Queensland. Parole Board Queensland President Michael Byrne QC, in an exclusive interview, told Proctor that when the laws were introduced he and his two deputies – Julie Sharp and Peter Shields – spent considerable time deciding how to proceed with the unexpected and complicated new law and landed on the “radical” approach of holding “open hearings” for convicted killers to ensure transparency and understanding for the prisoners, the victim’s family and the wider community.
“No body, no parole. That caught us from left field (when introduced) because it didn’t exist when we came here and it came to us (the board) in rushed legislation,” Mr Byrne said
“When the three of us sat down and said how do we deal with this? We thought it’s all about the victims (and their family and friends) and all about openness – so we took the radical step of holding (hearings) in open court.”
Mr Byrne said the reasoning behind the concept of open, and ultimately transparent, hearings was quite simple.
“This is to further the ideal that justice must not just be done; it must be seen to be done – in particular by the families of the victim and the family of the prisoner,” he said.
“I think that approach has so far been rather successful. Corrective Services, to give them their due, will fly the families of victims from wherever they are – be it Melbourne or wherever – (to the hearing) to sit in the back of the court, with a support person, so they can see what’s going on.
“We will always sit two of us (out of the three executive board members) rather than the usual one on the panel to hear the matter. We also thought it was a good idea to get (legal) counsel assisting us (to cross examine the prisoner) and the next step (in our plans) is to try and have prisoners legally represented.”
Mr Byrne said that, while the concept of ‘no body, no parole’ laws received widespread media coverage at the time they were enacted, many people did not fully comprehend what they meant or how they were implemented.
“It is laudable legislation to try and give (the families and friends of) victims some closure,” Mr Byrne said. “And the best way to get closure is to get (convicted killers) to talk and to try and say where the body or remains (of a victim) can be found…and if they don’t do that they know the consequences (and will remain in jail indefinitely).”
The laws to be implemented by the Parole Board Queensland – under Section 193A of the Corrective Services Act 2006 – dictate parole must not be granted to prisoners where the remains have not been located, unless it is satisfied the inmate has cooperated satisfactorily to identify where the victim’s remains are located.
These laws apply to cases where bodies or remains have not been located or recovered in cases of people convicted of:
- misconduct with regards to corpses
- accessory after the fact to murder
- conspiracy to murder
- unlawful striking causing death
- accessory after the fact for the offences of misconduct with regards to corpses, manslaughter, conspiracy to murder and unlawful striking causing death
- counselling, procuring or conspiring to commit one of the above offences, and
- for prisoners transferred from interstate who are serving a period of imprisonment in Queensland, an offence against the law of that other state that substantially corresponds with one of the above offences.
Mr Byrne said the approach adopted in the estimated “eight-or-so” cases so far heard under the ‘no body, no parole’ legislation had resulted in the release of about half of the prisoners who had applied for release.
In order to grant parole under the ‘no body, no parole’ provisions – the board must be satisfied that the prisoner has cooperated satisfactorily with police and investigators to locate or identify their victim’s body or remains.
By way of explanation, Mr Byrne said one prisoner secured parole by directing investigators to a location heavily populated with crocodiles where they were able to secure the murder weapon, but no remains, in a stretch of river where the victim’s body was dumped.
“The easy example (of how ‘no body, no parole’ works) is one of the early (applications) we had where a guy and his mate where living in a shanty somewhere north,” he said.
“As it turned out the (prisoner’s) mate took his washing off the line and (the prisoner) wasn’t happy so he clubbed him (with a length of pipe). He then dragged his mate’s body down to the river and threw it into a section filled with crocs.
“When (police) investigated…it took them three days to make it safe for divers to go in to the (crocodile infested) water (around the nominated dump site). The prisoner said ‘I killed him with a piece of pipe.’ The divers found the piece of pipe but did not – for obvious reasons – find the body. So what more could he do to help? And so he got out.”
However, Mr Byrne referred to another case where parole was denied to a prisoner – who claimed he was not present when his unnamed co-offenders dumped a victim – declined to assist investigators by naming his assailants and thereby increase the chances of locating the deceased person.
“At the other end of the spectrum is (an inmate)…who, I think, expected to get out,” he said.
“He was there (at the time of the murder)… but, he said: ‘I didn’t go, I didn’t dump the body, I don’t know where it is.’
“Well we said, ‘You said organised it.’ Tell us who the other people were and what happened.
“For obvious reasons he wasn’t going to tell us. And for even more obvious reasons we told him he wasn’t going to get out.”
Mr Byrne said these two examples, in essence, showed the aim of the ‘no body, no parole’ legislation to induce prisoners to “talk” and provide answers, solace and ultimately some form of closure for those most affected by the unlawful killings – their victim’s family.
This story was originally published in Proctor April 2020.