Lloyd Rayney judge-only trial 'will avoid prejudice'
A defamation case by Lloyd Rayney against the state of Western Australia more than four years after he was acquitted of his estranged wife's murder should be heard before a judge alone, his lawyer says, because a jury could be prejudiced towards him.
Mr Rayney is suing the WA government after he was named by a senior police officer as the "prime and only suspect" in the 2007 murder of Supreme Court registrar Corryn Rayney, but was found not guilty of murdering the mother-of-two in 2012 and the acquittal was upheld on appeal.
Ahead of a six-week trial due to start on February 27, a hearing was held in the Supreme Court of WA on Tuesday regarding an application by Mr Rayney's lawyer, Martin Bennett, to have the matter heard by a judge.
Mr Bennett said there was too great a risk a jury would come to the trial with negative preconceptions and be subconsciously affected by them.
"All publicity continues to place Mr Rayney... in a context where for nine years he has endured significant adverse public reaction," Mr Bennett said.
"Public opinion prejudiced against Mr Rayney remains pervasive to this day.
"There's a substantial risk of unfairness."
Mr Bennett listed anecdotal evidence of that prejudice, including abusive handwritten messages after the murder trial stating his client had "got away with it".
Mr Rayney also had dead crows placed in the driveway of his home, which had been pelted with eggs, and someone had arranged for Time magazines to be sent to his home addressed to "Lloyd Killer".
But Terence Tobin, who represents the state, questioned whether members of the community would hold onto prejudice despite Mr Rayney's acquittals, adding that the passage of time meant some jury members may be young enough - or new to Perth - to not know who he is.
With a properly directed jury, one could be confident in a just outcome, Mr Tobin said.
"The court must assume the jury will pay due heed to directions," he said.
Mr Bennett said another compelling reason to have the trial heard by a judge was they would have to provide reasons for their determination, unlike a jury.
A jury trial would take a lot longer, making it more expensive, he added.
More than 30 witnesses may be called, mainly police officers, and 90 witness statements will be tendered.
"It will be potentially the longest and most complex defamation trial in this state," Mr Bennett said.
"It will be a very, very difficult trial for any judge, let alone a jury."
Mr Rayney, who could receive potentially significant damages, said he was confident of a fair outcome.
"The sooner the trial comes the better from my perspective," he said.
Justice John Chaney has reserved his decision.
Pic credit: Perth Now