FEARING his involvement had become a "bizarre side show" in one of Queensland's biggest murder cases, Chief Justice Tim Carmody unexpectedly recused himself from the appeal.
The state's top judicial officer cited delays in justice for both Daniel Morcombe's family and convicted murderer among his reasons for stepping down.
Justice Carmody, who has been mired in controversy since his appointment to the role almost 12 months ago, also told the Court of Appeal he must disqualify himself "to preserve public confidence in the administration of justice" and avoid "an exorbitant waste of public time and money".
Lawyers for Brett Peter Cowan, who was convicted last year of murdering Daniel on the Sunshine Coast, were set to argue Justice Carmody had shown bias when he had a meeting on April 15 with child protection advocate Hetty Johnston, who had spoken publicly against Cowan and argued he should never be released.
Justice Carmody was one of three justices who heard Cowan's appeal last November.
Although expected earlier this year, that judgment is yet to be handed down.
Yesterday's court hearing was to determine who would hear the allegations on May 26.
That will now fall to the remaining justices - president Margaret McMurdo and Justice Hugh Fraser.
There is a chance the pair could hand down their already complete judgments on that day, but another possible outcome, one an angry Morcombe family fears, is the appeal will be heard afresh before new judges.
Justice Carmody said the bias allegations were "absurd and extraordinary", but he feared the hearing would become so complicated "no man or woman alive knows what it means".
"This will result in an exorbitant waste of public time and money, and the only persons who will benefit are the legal practitioners involved," he said.
"The parents of the victim of this dreadful crime will have justice delayed, and be placed in a position of continued uncertainty until these applications are resolved.
"The appellant himself will be placed in a position of continued uncertainty.
"Although judicial officers should not too readily disqualify themselves, to prevent this unmeritorious application from continuing for generations, it is in the best interests of this court and the overall public confidence in the administration of justice that I withdraw instead of prolonging this bizarre sideshow.
"I do so with great reluctance, a heavy heart and the deepest feeling of regret, for I do not wish to delay even further, if avoidable, justice to the Morcombes or the appellant."
Cowan's lawyer, Tim Meehan, denied the bias allegations were a spat between legal eagles - a question the Morcombes had raised given the legal fraternity's sustained attacks on Justice Carmody's appointment.
"It wasn't an issue that was raised by me or my team. It wasn't raised by the Attorney-General, it wasn't raised by the Crown. It was raised by the president of the Court of Appeal," Mr Meehan said.
"The delay isn't good for anyone. One must wonder why it's taken so long for a judgment to be delivered.
"If one had been delivered expeditiously, none of us would be standing here today."
- APN NEWSDESK
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