15 October 2019

ACT Government won't appeal Eastman compensation

| Ian Bushnell
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David Eastman

David Eastman leaving the Supreme Court during last year’s trial. Photo: File.

The David Eastman saga is now officially over after the ACT Government announced that it would not be appealing the awarding of more than $7 million compensation to the former public servant for being falsely imprisoned for the murder of AFP senior officer Colin Winchester.

Attorney-General Gordon Ramsay said that while the Government won’t be appealing, it was considering how to deal with any further implications of Justice Michael Elkaim’s judgment, which might be a precedent for further actions under Section 23 of the Human Rights Act.

Legal proceedings leading up to and including the re-trial are believed to have cost the ACT Government more than $30 million.

Justice Elkaim found that Mr Eastman was owed $7,020,000 plus costs after he spent 19 years in prison for the 1989 murder of Assistant Commissioner Winchester.

The compensation is less than half of what Mr Eastman was seeking after the ACT Supreme Court heard that Mr Eastman was seeking at least $18 million in compensation.

The ACT Government had offered an “act of grace” payment to Mr Eastman because it had a “moral obligation” to compensate him. The payment, which was reported to be $3.8 million, was offered on the condition Mr Eastman waived his legal rights and dropped his suit against the territory, which Mr Eastman rejected.

Instead, Mr Eastman’s lawyers applied for compensation under the ACT Human Rights Act which allows people to pursue payment for wrongful imprisonment. It was argued that Mr Eastman did not meet the requirements to receive compensation under the Act, stating the act of grace offer was the only way to compensate him.

But Justice Elkaim took a broader view of Section 23 to rule Mr Eastman was entitled.

Mr Eastman was originally found guilty of the murder in 1995 and was sentenced to life imprisonment without parole.

But a dogged Mr Eastman always maintained his innocence and after years of appeals, a 2014 inquiry found there had been a miscarriage of justice, with the forensic evidence discredited.

The Supreme Court quashed the conviction, released Mr Eastman from prison after serving 19 years and ordered a retrial. A jury found him not guilty in November last year.

Who actually killed Assistant Commissioner Winchester remains a mystery.

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