Do members of the public have a ‘right to know’ about similar fact evidence? The Emily Perry story and the ‘right to know’ in the context of a fair re-trial

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In South Australia in 1981, an intriguing criminal trial took shape around Emily Perry who was charged with two counts of attempting to murder her husband with arsenic. Similar fact evidence about the deaths of a former husband, a de facto partner and a brother led to a jury finding her guilty of the attempted murder of her husband who denied any claim that she had tried to harm him. An appeal to the South Australian Court of Criminal Appeal on the basis that the previous deaths should not have been brought to the attention of the jury was unsuccessful but Emily Perry’s case went all the way to the High Court of Australia. Her conviction was quashed and she was never re-tried.
This article examines the dichotomy of an accused’s right to a fair trial (and the rules of evidence that flow from that right) and the public’s so-called ‘right to know’ about a person charged with a serious offence. It posits the Perry case as an example of the opposing perspectives of lawyers and journalists, and explores the different narratives to which the case gave rise. The paper questions whether a fair re-trial for Emily Perry would ever have been possible after the vast media attention that it received.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)750-770
Number of pages21
JournalOñati Socio-Legal Series
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 2014
Externally publishedYes

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