Can the legal system adequately uphold the rights of victims, offenders and society, explored through the case study of Robert Xie?

On the 18th of July 2009, Robert Xie committed an indictable offence, the murder of 5 members of his extended family. After an elaborate 2-year investigation process, Xie was arrested and charged with five counts of murder pursuant to section 18 of the Crimes Act 1900. The first and second trial were both aborted in 2014 due to the availability of new evidence and health issues of the judge respectively. The third trial lasted for nine months; however, the result was a hung jury. The fourth trial began in 2016 and in January 2017, Xie was found guilty by a majority verdict to five counts of murder and sentenced to five life imprisonments pursuant to section 61 of the Sentencing Act 1999.

In R v Xie, the rights of the victim, offender and society were upheld and balanced for the majority of the case due to the robustness of the investigation process, ensuring a just trial and appropriate sentence. However, the neglection of the rule of law in the bail application created an imbalance between the rights of the offender and society.

The magistrate denied the offender’s right to be presumed innocent, favouring the rights of society over the rights of the offender. During the 4-year period between charge and trial, the court denied Xie bail three times pursuant to section 2A of the Bail Act 1978. This was due merely to the possibility of evidence and the severity of the original charge, even though he had pleaded not guilty. These decisions endorsed the rights of society to ensure community protection from the offender. Moreover, the ruling favoured the rights of the victim’s family to be protected from contact with the accused stated in section 6 of the Victims Rights Act 1996. However, in accepting these rights, the offenders critical right to the presumption of innocence was withdrawn, placing Xie on remand before he had been convicted. Furthermore, the time spent in jail had significant psychological effects on Xie’s mental health. Prison psychologist Mr Borenstein stated: “Xie has been diagnosed with a major depressive disorder requiring ongoing psychiatric assistance”. This aligns with a recent Australian Health and Welfare report stating that 38% of prisoners suffer from a mental health condition. Due to the significant psychological impacts of prison, Xie’s ability and right to participate fully in his trial could have been undermined. Thus, the neglection of the rule of law favoured the rights of society and the victim over the rights of the offender.

The robustness of the investigation process and the length of the trial arguably portrays an ineffective legal system; however, it ensured that the rights of the offender, victim and society were balanced. The termination of the first trial was due to evidence provided by Xie’s niece, who revealed that Xie had sexually assaulted her before and after the crime had been committed. The defence argued that the evidence was not relevant pursuant to section 55 of the Evidence Act 1995 or that if it was relevant, it should be removed upon the basis that its probative value was outweighed by the danger of unfair prejudice to the accused, stated in Section 137 of the Evidence Act. The crown argued that the evidence was admissible because it revealed the factors affecting Xie’s criminal behaviour, and ultimately determined the mens rea of the case. Xie had a sexual obsession with his niece and his intentions for murdering her family was that it would then give him the opportunity to live with her. The judge decided that the evidence was relevant but dismissed the jury based on the decision of Crofts v The Queen 1996 to overcome any prejudice that had now been placed upon the accused. This was a vital decision due to the headline of the Guardian the next day stating: “Robert Xie had sexual motive for murdering Lin family.” If the jury had not been dismissed there would have been significant bias placed against the accused and his right to a fair trial could have been impeded. Moreover, the rights of the victim to justice were upheld during the sentencing process. The judge considered Section 28 of the Sentencing Act 1999 to ensure the offender received a punishment that aligned with the crime that had been committed and the psychological affects it had on the victim. Furthermore, the right of society to be protected from perpetrators was endorsed, with the offender placed in prison for an extended period.

Is it possible for the legal system to adequately uphold the rights of victims, offenders and society?

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