DANIEL Morcombe's killer could walk free after the inquest into his suspected murder because of Coroners Court rules allowing criminals immunity from prosecution in return for evidence.
In 2003, 13-year-old Daniel disappeared from the Nambour Connection Road and no trace of what happened to him has ever been found.
On Monday a coronial inquest into his disappearance will begin at Maroochydore. Though it is hoped the inquest will provide answers for the Morcombe family, the process could result in those responsible walking free.
Dr Heather Douglas, a legal expert from the University of Queensland, said the Coroners Court was focused on finding answers and making recommendations, not establishing guilt, and did not have the power to prosecute criminals.
Ms Douglas said Coroner Michael Barnes could call any persons of interest to testify.
However, those called had the right to decline if, by giving evidence, they risked self-incrimination.
“In this sort of circumstance the coroner can compel a witness to give evidence, even if that means confessing to a crime,” she said.
“The problem with this, however, is that evidence given at a coronial inquest can not be used against a person to prosecute them for the crime, even if an admission of guilt is made.
“In effect, that means a person who confesses to a crime in the Coroners Court can not be prosecuted.”
Ms Douglas said the coroner had to weigh up whether it was in the public interest for a witness to incriminate themselves and, in effect, become immune from prosecution, or to glean information from other sources that could lead to a prosecution being recommended.
“In the case of Daniel Morcombe, if such a situation arose, the coroner would have to decide whether it was in the public interest for Daniel's body to be located and the cause of death verified or to attempt to prosecute the person responsible by using information given by others,” she said.
“It's a real balancing act but it must be remembered the role of the Coroners Court is to find answers and make recommendations to prevent a similar event occurring.
Bruce and Denise Morcombe are acutely aware of the rules governing the coronial inquest, which is expected to last at least three weeks, and will have legal representation throughout.
The Morcombes will have the opportunity to question witnesses and, though they want answers as to what happened to their son, they also hope for those involved to face prosecution.
“The coronial inquest is going to be particularly unpleasant but it's a process we have to go through to try and find out what happened to Daniel,” Mr Morcombe said.
“However, there is the dilemma that, if the perpetrator is compelled to give incriminating evidence that evidence can't be used against them and they can't face criminal prosecution.
“We're going to have to be very careful because we don't want to blow a potential prosecution.
“We want whoever killed our son to be brought to justice.”