Justice refuses probe into murder trial jurors

A SUPREME Court justice, who feared the time-honoured jury system would be in jeopardy, has refused to allow lawyers to probe jurors involved in a Rockhampton murder trial.

Justice Roslyn Atkinson was asked to consider whether she should allow a Queensland sheriff to put questions to jurors involved in convicting three men of the death of Robert James Buckley at the old Etna Creek Prison.

Justice Atkinson, during the application in Brisbane Supreme Court, said the legislation giving her discretion to make the order was born after the now infamous Joh Bjelke-Petersen jury saga.

Mark Dempsey Knight, Wesley Robert Williams and Wayne Thomas Robertson were found guilty after a trial in April of murdering the 23-year-old in 1999.

Buckley was found dead, hanging by a towel from a window in a shower block at the prison.

It was the second trial the men had faced, after the Court of Appeal set aside initial guilty verdicts and ordered a retrial.

The court heard during the application that a juror had commented to his barber that the men were serving life sentences or long-term jail terms anyway so the jury's verdicts made no difference.

The barber served a lawyer for one of the accused men later that same day and passed on the conversation.

The trio's lawyers argued the comment meant the juror could have read newspaper articles "already in the public arena" during the trial and had therefore performed illegal "external" investigations while he was on jury duty.

He said jurors could be approached under section 70 (7) of the Jury Act if the court suspected a juror was guilty of bias, fraud or an offence related to the person's involvement in the jury's performance.

Justice Atkinson said she was concerned enlivening the subsection could drive "a highway" through the confidentiality of the jury system and "then I don't see how we could continue the jury system".

But when she dismissed the application on Monday, she agreed not to publish her reasons on the Queensland courts website until the appeal process had expired.

The trio's lawyers said they would most likely appeal Justice Atkinson's decision on questioning the juror and indicated they would likely go to the Court of Appeal over the murder convictions.

The Bjelke-Petersen 1991 perjury trial, which was deadlocked with a hung jury, became infamous when it was revealed the jury foreman was a member of the Young Nationals and was identified with the Friends of Joh movement.

Topics:  jury mark dempsey knight murder supreme court

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