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Review of Phuong Ngo Case

The World Today - Friday, 6 June , 2008 12:13:00

Reporter: Jayne Margetts

ELEANOR HALL: He was Australia's first political assassin. Now the New South Wales Supreme Court has ordered a review of the Phuong Ngo case. For years questions have remained about whether Phuong Ngo really was guilty of the 1994 political assassination of former Cabramatta MP, John Newman. And now the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of New South Wales, Jim Spiegelman, has ordered a review of the case and former District Court judge, David Patten, has been appointed to head the inquiry. Jayne Margetts has our story. JAYNE MARGETTS: Phuong Ngo was jailed for life in June 2001 for the murder of former Cabramatta MP John Newman. But it was never clear who pulled the trigger. Since then a small but dedicated group of supporters has followed his case and has always believed in his innocence. Now that friendship is paying off. Their scrutiny of the evidence against Phuong Ngo has led to a review of his conviction. One of his supporters is human rights advocate, Marion Le. MARION LE: I just think it's fantastic news. It's been 10 years since he's been in jail. And this review is just, you know, something that I think in a way has been long overdue. JAYNE MARGETTS: The application for a review was made by Australian National University legal academic, Hugh Selby. He says further information has come to light which suggests evidence used by the prosecution at Ngo's three trials wasn't as reliable as the jury was led to believe. HUGH SELBY: In our application to the Chief Justice we pointed to several issues as follows. One, that the use of the mobile phones was misunderstood at the trials. Secondly, that the several witnesses who gave evidence at the trial were said by the prosecution to be quite independent of each other, that it … it was said that these witnesses had not spoken to each other before giving their statements. And we know have information that strongly suggests that that was not the case. That in fact these people had been got together. And the third arm of our case is that it would now appear that some information which we say should have been disclosed by the police to the prosecution and to the defence before the trial was not disclosed to either the prosecution or the defence, and only came to light after Mr Ngo began to serve his jail term. JAYNE MARGETTS: Marion Le says Ngo's case highlights a flaw in the justice system. MARION LE: The problem is that when you get people who have given evidence in one trial totally contradicting that evidence in another unrelated, as it were, trial. And then saying that well we didn't tell the truth in the primary trial, in this case in the Newman matter, you know, but we're telling the truth now. And then subsequently are proved to be lying there as well. I mean this leads to a lot of qualms about the integrity of the system. JAYNE MARGETTS: Earlier this year, the ABC's Four Corners program raised concerns about Ngo's conviction. Journalist Deb Whitmont spoke to ABC Local Radio: DEB WHITMONT: I think we were all sort of surprised by how quick he came out with this direction for an inquiry. And I think one thing that's very interesting about it is that so much of the evidence that led to Phuong Ngo's conviction was evidence that was induced through the processes of the Crime Commission. And whilst I'm sure the chief justice wasn't particularly influenced by what he read in the paper, it's very interesting that the Crime Commission is under such scrutiny right now too. JAYNE MARGETTS: The New South Wales Crime Commission admitted earlier this week its reputation has been damaged by the charging of one of its top investigators on serious drug charges. But the timing of the Supreme Court review into Phuong Ngo's case is just a coincidence. The application for an inquiry was made on 23rd of May well before the arrest of Mark Standen. The review of Phuong Ngo's case is expected to take up to a year. ELEANOR HALL: Jayne Margetts reporting.


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