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Chris Dawson murder trial twist

Former Sydney teacher Chris Dawson has won a temporary halt of his murder trial to allow the ‘unrestrained and clamorous’ public commentary about his wife’s ‘disappearance’ to abate.

The 72-year-old, who was arrested in December 2018, has pleaded not guilty to murdering Lynette Dawson at Bayview on or about January 8, 1982.

Chris Dawson has won a temporary halt of his murder trial to allow the 'unrestrained and clamorous' public commentary about his wife's 'disappearance' to abate

Chris Dawson has won a temporary halt of his murder trial to allow the ‘unrestrained and clamorous’ public commentary about his wife’s ‘disappearance’ to abate

He applied to the NSW Supreme Court for an order that his trial be permanently stayed for various reasons, including because of a serialised podcast broadcast on a range of internet platforms between May and December 2018.

In a summary of her decision released on Friday, Justice Elizabeth Fullerton ruled the trial should be temporarily stayed and is not to commence before June 1, 2021.

She noted this was the first application for a permanent stay of a criminal trial in Australia based upon a serialised podcast and the media storm which it generated.

She referred to the adverse publicity in the case, or more accurately ‘the unrestrained and uncensored public commentary’ about Lynette Dawson’s suspected murder.

Undoubtedly, it was the ‘most egregious’ example of media interference with a criminal trial process which this court has had to consider in deciding whether to take the extraordinary step of permanently staying a criminal prosecution, the summary said.

The Crown alleges Lynette Dawson was murdered some time after she was last seen at the Warriewood child care centre on the afternoon of January 8 and after she spoke to her mother on the phone that evening.

In accounts he gave to various people after January 9, including to investigating police in May 1991, Dawson said he spoke to his wife several times by telephone after last seeing her on the morning of January 9.

When contact with her ceased, he said he ultimately accepted she had decided to leave him and conceal her whereabouts from him and her friends and family.

The Crown also accepted the obligation of discounting any reasonable possibility that a woman seen by a number of people in various NSW locations after January 8 they believed to be Lynette Dawson was in fact her.

Dawson contended his trial would be ‘irredeemably unfair ‘ because of the nature and extent of public commentary across a range of electronic media and social media platforms concerning Lynette Dawson’s ‘disappearance’ and her suspected murder.

‘Particular focus and considerable criticism was directed at the format, style and content of a serialised podcast produced and presented by an investigative journalist employed by a national newspaper,’ the judge said.

She said the popularity of the new genre so-called ‘true crime’ podcast, which provides a new platform for the investigative journalist to attract a wide and diverse listening audience, highlighted the need for both the journalist and the broadcaster to apply restraint.

That was if the new medium is ‘to coexist with the fundamental right of a person accused of a serious crime to be tried in a court of law, not in a court of public opinion’.

The judge accepted that any further delay in starting the trial intensifies the risk of memories fading or, worse still, witnesses dying.

However, given the extent of the adverse publicity in this case, she ruled that the trial should be temporarily stayed to allow the unrestrained and clamorous public commentary about Ms Dawson’s ‘disappearance’ to abate with a view to ensuring his fundamental right to a fair trial..

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