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Key Takeaways

New South Wales does not automatically refuse parole to a convicted murderer serving jail time if he/she fails to disclose the location of the victim’s dead body. Under NSW parole laws, the failure to disclose the body is only one of many relevant factors in deciding whether or not to grant parole by the Parole Authority. In contrast, other States and Territories such as Queensland, South Australia and Victoria have no body no parole laws effectively refusing parole to offenders who fail to disclose the remains of the victim’s body. Here is more on this law with an update on the Chris Dawson Lynette Dawson case.

Former Sydney teacher and rugby league player, Chris Dawson has been found guilty of murdering his first wife, Lynette Dawson, nearly 40 years after she disappeared.

Following a three-month murder trial at the Supreme Court and nearly two months of deliberation, Justice Ian Harrison returned the verdict of guilty.

Justice Harrison delivered a lengthy 5-hour judgement, with the trial proceeding judge-alone rather than before a jury.

After the verdict, Dawson, now 74-years old was remanded into custody, with the matter adjourned for sentence.

During the trial, the Crown alleged that Chris Dawson was motived to kill Lynette to pursue an unbridled romantic relationship with their teenage babysitter referred to as ‘JC’.

The Crown also submitted that his will to keep sole custody of their two children, and finances, supported this.

They also sought to explain how Lynette would simply not ‘run away’ from her family life.

Her love for her young children, the fact that she did not take any clothes or belongings with her, her limited financial means, and her plans for the future, were utilised to support this.

The defence essentially proposed that the alternative explanation for Lynette’s disappearance was that she abandoned her family, and that it could not be found beyond reasonable doubt that Dawson murdered her.

They referenced purported sightings of Lynette following her disappearance and a number of calls reportedly received by Dawson following her disappearance.

Justice Harrison ultimately rejected the evidence that Dawson had received calls from Lynette following her disappearance, labelling them “fabrications” and “lies”.

His Honour also rejected the reported sightings of Lynette as either unreliable, unlikely, or fabrications.

Justice Harrison found that there was a “most compelling” body of evidence to support that Lynette would not voluntarily leave her family.

He was thus satisfied Lynette Dawson was dead and that she died on or about 8 January, 1982.

He confirmed that he was satisfied beyond reasonable doubt that Lynette Dawson died as a result of a conscious and voluntary act by Chris Dawson, with the intention of causing her death.

Notably, Ms Dawson’s body has never been found and the case against Chris was wholly circumstantial.

TIMELINE

Chris and Lynette got married in 1970, and had two children, Shanelle, and Sherryn.

Between 1972 and 1976, both Chris and his identical twin brother Paul played professional rugby league football for the Newtown Jets.

Following the conclusion of their rugby careers, both brothers found employment as physical education teachers.

Chris worked at Cromer High School, in Sydney’s Northern Beaches.

By 1981, Chris had begun to form a relationship with a 16-year-old student named Joanne Curtis (referred to as ‘JC’), who then started working as a babysitter for the family.

Upon invitation, JC temporarily moved into the Dawson residence as a live-in babysitter, due to having familial issues.

During her stay, neighbours reportedly spotted JC swimming topless, with Lynette catching her sitting on Dawson’s lap numerous times.

Evidence was given that Lynette confronted JC about her relationship with Chris, accusing her of “taking liberties” with her husband.

JC told the court that she would regularly have sex with him while Lynette was asleep or in the shower and claimed Chris regularly fed alcoholic drinks to her that would make her fall asleep.

Chris and Lynette continued to have marital issues, largely caused by JC.

In late 1981, JC and Chris packed their belongings and were set to move to Queensland together.

The couple did not reach Queensland, with Chris having to turn back after JC complained she felt homesick and uncomfortable.

Chris returned to the family home, with Lynette, and they purportedly attempted to work on their marriage.

On 8 January 1982, the Dawsons attended a marriage counselling session, with witnesses commenting that Lynette seemed hopeful after speaking with the counsellor.

Lynette’s mother phoned the residence to check in regarding the session the pair had engaged in – which would be the last time someone besides Dawson would communicate with her.

Lynette had planned to meet her mother and family at Northbridge Baths the following day, but she never arrived, with Chris claiming that she had phoned telling him she needed some time to herself.

Over the new year period, JC had gone for a holiday with her friends, without Dawson.

Dawson picked her up from her holiday, with JC’s evidence detailing that he had told her that Lynette ‘wasn’t coming back.’

JC had moved into the residence, and was sleeping in Lynette’s former bed, permanently, by 10 January 1982, only two days after the disappearance.

It was also adduced in evidence that JC utilised Lynette’s clothes and belongings, which all remained in the residence.

During JC’s evidence, she opined how she felt like a ‘sex slave’ and was forced to take care of his children, whilst being a child herself.

Chris did not report his wife as missing to the police until 18 February 1982.

In liaising with police, he reported that she had left as a result of marital issues related to her spending and that she may have joined a religious cult.

Due to her supposed disappearance, Dawson was able to finalise divorce proceedings in 1983, and married JC in 1984.

JC gave birth to their daughter in 1985, and the pair divorced in 1990.

The lack of progress into determining Lynette’s whereabouts spurred two coronial inquiries.

Both inquiries, held in 2001 and 2003 respectively, recommended that charges be laid against Dawson, and ruled that Lynette had likely been murdered.

However, on both occasions, the NSW Director of Public Prosecutions claimed that there was insufficient evidence to proceed.

Furthermore, two attempts to find her remains by digging up the couple’s property (one a decade after her disappearance and one again in 2018) were unsuccessful.

In April 2018, following extensive renewed investigations, the NSW Police again requested the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions to review its brief of evidence.

This largely coincided with the success of the ‘Teacher’s Pet’ podcast, which investigated her disappearance.

Chris was finally charged with murder in December 2018 and extradited to Sydney from his Gold Coast home.

He pleaded not guilty to the charge in June 2019, with this thus bringing us to the present in which Dawson has been found guilty at trial for the murder of Lynette.

He has flagged plans to appeal this decision.

Following the verdict, Greg Simms, Lynette’s brother called for Dawson to “find it in himself” to reveal where her body is to enable them to “bring her home for peaceful rest.”

Dawson’s insistence on his innocence and plans to appeal the decision have thrown doubt on if the location of Lynette’s body will ever be revealed.

Unlike in other Australian states such as Queensland, South Australia and Victoria, New South Wales does not have a mandatory ‘no body, no parole’ policy.

What is Parole? Parole is the conditional release of an offender from custody, which enables them to serve the remainder of their sentence in the community.

NSW ‘No Body No Parole’ Laws

In New South Wales, for terms of imprisonment of more than 3 years where a non-parole period is also set, the Parole Authority must not make a parole order directing the release of an offender unless it is satisfied that it is in the interests of the safety of the community.

One of the factors the Parole Authority will consider in determining whether or not it is in the interest of the safety of the community is whether the offender has failed to disclose the location of the remains of a victim pursuant to section 135(3)(e) of the Crimes (Administration of Sentences) Act 1999 (NSW).

Therefore, in NSW it is not a strict or definite rule, but rather a consideration the State Parole Authority must take into account when making a determination on whether or not to grant parole after the offender has served his/her non-parole period (full time custody period).

Ultimately, where an imprisonment sentence is more than 3-years, where the court imposes a non-parole period, the offender does not have a right to be released at the expiration of this period, as outlined in Division 2 of the Act.

They become eligible for release on parole after this period, and whether they are released on parole is up to the discretion of the Parole Authority.

Queensland ‘No Body No Parole’ Laws

In Queensland, as outlined in section 193A of the Corrective Services Act 2006 (Qld), their parole board must refuse to grant an application for parole where the offender is serving imprisonment for a ‘homicide offence’ and:

  • the body or remains of the victim have not been located; or
  • because of an act or omission of the prisoner or another person, part of the body or remains of the victim has not been located.

Notably, this may not apply where the Board is satisfied that the prisoner has cooperated satisfactorily in the investigation of the homicide offence to identify the victim’s location, even if it is not found.

The ‘victim’s location’ is defined as the location or last known location of every part of the body or remains of the victim, and the place where every part of the body or remains of the victim may be found.

When considering whether the offender has cooperated the board will refer to the nature, extent and timeliness of the cooperation, its truthfulness, completeness and reliability, and the offender’s capacity to provide cooperation.

South Australia ‘No Body No Parole’ Laws

South Australia commenced ‘no body, no parole’ provisions in 2016, as outlined in the Correctional Services Act 1982 (SA).

The South Australian parole board must not release a prisoner sentenced to ‘life imprisonment’ unless it is satisfied the prisoner has satisfactorily cooperated in the investigation of the offence.

Those convicted of murder are thus prevented from being considered for parole, where they have deliberately withheld information about the location of their victim’s body or remains, as per section 67(6) of the Act.

The board will consider the nature, extent, timeliness, significant, usefulness, and truthfulness, or reliability of any information or evidence provided by the prisoner.

Victoria ‘No Body No Parole’ Laws

In Victoria, as per section 74AABA of the Corrections Act 1986 (Vic), the Board must not grant parole in respect of a prisoner serving a sentence of imprisonment for an offence of murder (including conspiracy to or being an accessory to), or manslaughter unless the Board is satisfied that the prisoner has cooperated satisfactorily in the investigation to identify:

  • the location, or the last known location, of the body or remains of the victim; and
  • the place where the body or remains of the victim may be found.

Factors previously outlined will be relevant to assessing cooperation.

Furthermore, the Board may have regard to information ascertained from the Crown’s case put at trial if that case includes reference to whether the prisoner was acknowledged to have information relevant to the location of the body or remains.

Western Australia ‘No Body No Parole’ Laws

In Western Australia, as outlined in section 66B of the Sentence Administration Act 2003 (WA), the parole board must not release a prisoner, in custody for a homicide offence or homicide related offence, unless it can be satisfied that:

  • the prisoner has cooperated with the police in the identification of the location, or last known location, of the remains of the victim, or
  • a member of the police force knows the location of the remains of the victim.

The board may still be satisfied, even if the prisoner did not cooperate before being sentenced, or before the determination of an appeal against a conviction or sentence.

The board will consider information about the prisoner’s mental capacity to provide relevant information or evidence.

Northern Territory ‘No Body No Parole’ Laws

In the Northern Territory, ‘no body, no parole’ provisions were introduced in 2016, and are now outlined in section 4B of the Parole Act 1971 (NT).

When considering the release on parole of a prisoner who is serving life imprisonment for murder, the board must not make a parole order unless it is satisfied that the prisoner has cooperated satisfactorily in the investigation to identify the location, or the last known location, of the remains of the victim.

The board will consider the nature, extent, timeliness, truthfulness, reliability and the significance and usefulness of the prisoner’s cooperation.

There are no provisions specifically addressing the concept of ‘no body, no parole’ in Tasmania or the Australian Capital Territory, however, it may present a consideration in a parole assessment.

Published on 02/09/2022

AUTHOR Criminal Defence Lawyers Australia

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