Unit 4 Area of Study 2 vce legal Studies: The trials and acquittals of Boris Beljajev




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Unit 4 Area of Study 2 VCE Legal Studies: The trials and acquittals of Boris Beljajev

A BEAMING Boris Beljajev burst from the Supreme Court in Melbourne on 10 August 2007, a free man, kissing and embracing his barrister, Robert Richter, after a three-week murder case against him dramatically collapsed. A judge had just directed a jury to find Mr Beljajev, 56, not guilty of the stabbing murder of crime figure Aleksandar Ristic in June 2005.

Mr Beljajev sobbed and shook in the dock as Justice Elizabeth Curtain told the jury she had upheld a submission by lead defence counsel Robert Richter, QC, that his client had no case to answer. Mr Beljajev first gained prominence for an acquittal in 2000 on major drug charges that followed the longest and costliest legal proceedings in Victoria's history. He spent 5½ years in custody before his release on those charges and had served 21 months on remand for the murder charge. Mr Richter told The Age after the latest acquittal he believed Mr Beljajev should be compensated. Outside court, Mr Beljajev thanked God, Mr Richter, junior counsel Sean Grant, solicitor Theo Magazis and the justice system.

"The only regrettable part is that I spent 7½ years on remand without being convicted of anything," he told The Age. He said he had lost his wife, his business, his credit rating and his mother, who died on Sunday: "The rest is history, so now we have a drink and a cigar," he said.

When prosecutor Michael Tinney closed the Crown case yesterday morning, Mr Richter, in the absence of the jury, submitted that on the evidence Mr Beljajev did not have the opportunity to murder Mr Ristic. He said a prosecution witness had placed his client in a chocolate shop at the likely time of the stabbing in Balaclava. In reply, Mr Tinney conceded it was not a strong Crown case, but evidence of Mr Beljajev's lies to police and telephone contact between the men and Mr Ristic being within 100 metres of Mr Beljajev's home on the day of the murder should be left to the jury.

When Justice Curtain recalled the jury just after 4pm, she explained that there were no witnesses to the killing, no admissions by Mr Beljajev and no forensic evidence. Justice Curtain reminded them that when Mr Tinney opened the trial he said it was a circumstantial case that relied on inferences. She said that as the shop witness had Mr Beljajev there at about 12.41pm and an emergency service call was made for Mr Ristic at about 12.43 "you can't be in two places at once".

The times did not allow for Mr Beljajev to have the opportunity to kill Mr Ristic, Justice Curtain told the jury: "The point is … you can't act on suspicion," she said


Links to Unit 4 Area of Study 2

One of the best examples to evaluate the adversary system and the jury system is Beljajev. We will examine prosecutions against Beljajev, all of which were unsuccessful. The prosecution of Beljajev began in December 1987 for suspected drug trafficking. The table below outlines the key facts of the case, with links to changes or suggested changes to enhance the operation of the legal system and the element of an effective legal system to be satisfied in each case.



Key facts of the case


Change/suggested change

Element of effective legal system

Remand

With regard to drug -related charges, Beljajev spent 5 ½ years on remand before being acquitted by County Crt jury.


Conditions in remand centres must improve (overcrowding). Reduce delays to avoid excseeive periods on remand.


The right to a fair and unbiased hearing and the rights of accused people - the presumption of innocence.



The jury

77 days lost due to juror illness, death of foreperson and trial judge’s concerns over jurors’ exhaustion. Frequent adjournments due to illness of witnesses and jurors.



Possible alternatives to the operation of the jury system -

  • Panel of judges

  • Judge presiding alone

  • Professional jurors who are trained for the demands of the role.

Fair & unbiased hearing – in lengthy cases, it is difficult for jurors to cope. Timely resolution – jurors add to delays, causing pressure for parties, including witnesses. They add to costs of cases.

Conduct of the trial

The closing address to the jury by the Crown Prosecutor took two months.



Could Inquisitorial System have assisted? Judicial control is vital to reduce costs and delays and assist jurors.

  • Timely resolution of disputes




Expert witnesses

Two expert witnesses disagreed over contents of a tape recording. This caused delays and cost parties $1 million in fees for experts.



Court-appointed experts but there may be disadvantages. We need party control to chase all evidence. One expert may not be as thorough as two opposing parties.

  • Fair & unbiased hearing

  • Timely resolution of disputes




Legal aid

All accused were given legal aid in a trial that cost $40 million. The actual legal costs to represent the men were between $6 and $8 million.



There is a link between efficient trials and reduced costs. The Inquisitorial System may be less complex; legal representation not essential. This reduces the cost burden to the legal system.

  • Fair & unbiased hearing.

  • Effective access to mechanisms for the resolution of disputes.

  • Timely resolution.





The hearing of a murder charge against Boris Beljajev

After Mr Beljajev’s acquittal over the drugs charges in 2000, he was charged in 2005 with the murder of Alexandra Ristic 52, in Balaclava. His case was heard in the Supreme Court in 2007. Beljajev was again been held on remand awaiting his murder trial.

At the end of the prosecution evidence in the Ristic case, the judge, Justice Elizabeth Curtain, directed the jury to find Mr Beljajev not guilty of the alleged murder. The judge explained to the jury that there were no witnesses to the killing, no admissions by Mr Beljajev and no forensic evidence linking Mr Beljajev to the killing. Justice Curtain reminded the jury that the Crown Prosecutor had said from the outset that it was a circumstantial case that relied on inferences. Justice Curtain upheld a submission presented by Mr Beljajev’s counsel, Mr Robert Richter, QC, that his client had no case to answer. The jury duly acquitted Beljajev.

Beljajev spent 5 ½ years on remand on drug-related charges for which he was acquitted and a further 21 months on remand for the murder charge. In total, he spent over 7 years on remand and was not convicted of any of these offences for which he was charged. Mr Richter told the media after the 2007 acquittal that he believed Beljajev should receive compensation as a result of the prosecutions. Beljajev said that he had lost everything during his time on remand, including his business and close relationships.


Links to Unit 4 VCE Legal Studies Area of Study 2

  • To what extent do these prosecutions highlight weaknesses in the legal system brought about by having the presence of a jury in mega-trials? The drug trials involving Beljajev were delayed significantly by illness and fatigue on the part of the jury. When it is considered that Beljajev was being held on remand, are his essential rights at risk where delays occur in the resolution of cases?




  • Would an inquisitorial model be more appropriate in such cases? Consider the fact that the parties engaged their own expert witnesses to examine telephone intercepts. This contributes greatly to costs and adds sometimes confusing and contradictory evidence for the jury to consider.




  • At the murder trial, even the Prosecutor accepted that the evidence against Beljajev was only circumstantial. Given the fact that the Crown was unable to discharge its burden of proof when presenting evidence, does this suggest that committal hearings occasionally do not sift out cases where the evidence appears to be thin?

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