Moral panics and miscarriages of justice: An analysis of alleged wrongful convictions in child sexual abuse cases in Australia

RA Lincoln, Rikki Grinberg

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Miscarriages of justice often arise when there is heightened media attention and public or political pressure on police to act quickly in major crime cases. This is evidenced in a number of high profile cases both within Australia and oversieas. The classic antipodean case - where the media and public attention was 'frenzied'' - is that of Lindy Chamberlain whose baby Azaria was taken by a dingo near Uluru in the early 1980s. Often, such heightened attention occurs where the victim is attractive, innocent and identifiable. Thus, this kind of media push is most likely with child victims in general. Child sexual abuse has been a major media concern for over two decades and interest in it does not appear to be abating. Indeed with new forms of institutional abuse being uncovered the media interest is sustained. This paper examines two cases of alleged miscarriages of justice that have taken place in Queensland in the mid to late 1990s in this climate of heightened public focus on child sex abuse. The cases are analysed in detail to (a) examine the justice processes to determine where and why they might be considered wrongful convictions and (b) to discern how the media or public attention might have wrought undue or erroneous focus on the cases. The analysis attempts to address how media moral panics might impact on these wrongful outcomes. This study is exploratory as it will be the basis for a larger analysis of over 100 cases in the state. MORE HERE ABOUT THE FINDINGS The findings are threefold: 'salemism' which defines an assumption of guilt in the face of little or no evidence just because of the category or classification of the crime (much like the witches of Salem); incompetent and lazy policing
(Wilson 1991 ); and poor defence practices especially the rule in Queensland of giving up the right of last address to the jury (recommend to change this rule).
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages22
Publication statusPublished - 2004
EventSocio-Legal Studies Association Conference - University of Glasgow, Glasgow, United Kingdom
Duration: 6 Apr 20048 Apr 2004


ConferenceSocio-Legal Studies Association Conference
Abbreviated titleSLSA
Country/TerritoryUnited Kingdom
Internet address


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