A full sitting of the South Australian Supreme Court has rejected an appeal by Aboriginal man Derek Bromley who was convicted for a murder which he maintains he did not commit decades ago.
Staff writers

29 May 2018 - 11:41 AM  UPDATED 29 May 2018 - 3:20 PM

A man who has spent more than 30 years in jail convicted of a murder he says he did not commit has had his application to appeal rejected.

Derek John Bromley and an accomplice, John Karpany, were jailed for life for the 1984 murder of Stephen Docoza after the man's body was found floating in Adelaide's River Torrens.

On Tuesday, the Court of Criminal Appeal rejected his application to appeal.

Bromley recently launched a fresh appeal, relying on new state legislation which allows for another look at the case if fresh and compelling evidence has emerged.

On Tuesday the Court of Criminal Appeal delivered its decision after his counsel last year questioned the reliability of evidence given at Bromley's trial by controversial pathologist Colin Manock.

The court had heard new evidence and was told that Dr Manock's findings "could not be made out in the light of modern technology".

Bromley also questioned the use of the doctor's findings to back up evidence from witness Gary Carter, who the court heard had serious mental health issues and was delusional at the time of the killing.

The legislative change that led to new hope

Mr Bromley’s case made national headlines in 2013 after South Australia made history with reforms which allowed prisoners a second chance to appeal their convictions for the first time. The change became the most significant legislative amendment to Australia's criminal appeals laws in a century.

At the time, Mr Bromley was serving his 30th year in prison for a murder he always claimed he didn't commit. He had already become eligible for parole seven years earlier but claimed he had been the victim of an administrative deadlock that delayed his potential release.

The legislative change allowed him to mount a second appeal under the new South Australian laws gazetted that year.

Supporter Robyn Milera told SBS at the time Mr Bromley’s bids to be recommended for parole had been continually denied because the Department of Correctional Services had not placed him in a re-socialisation program to ready him for release.

Ms Milera explained the Department of Correctional Services wouldn't place him in the program without a recommendation from the Parole Board.

"We've been going through this process for seven years, we feel it's time for the parliament, the government, to intervene and sort out the Catch 22," Ms Milera told SBS News in 2013.

Referring to the new laws, she said that it was “the breakthrough” they needed “to get back to the court and hopefully sort this out.”

Until 2013 people had only a single right to appeal. The change enabled a second appeal if compelling new evidence emerged, such a previously undetected DNA.

South Australia’s Deputy Premier and Attorney-General, John Rau cautioned at the time that the new laws wouldn’t become “an automatic thing that any unhappy person in prison is going to be able to take advantage of”.

“This will be something where the threshold to take advantage of it is going to be relatively hard to clear,” he told SBS.

Similar laws in the UK have seen hundreds of wrongful convictions overturned, including more than 70 murder convictions.

Former Justice of the High Court of Australia, Michael Kirby was hopeful at the time that the new law “would be sought for in large numbers of cases involving Indigenous Australians”, implying that he had suspicions that there were multiple potential wrongful convictions that needed to be re-evaluated.    

Before the law changed, Mr Kirby pointed out, “even if you got the most powerful evidence that a person is actually innocent, that can’t be considered by the highest appeal court in the country. So that’s a definite blemish on our system of justice.”

With AAP