In a judgment this week, Acting Justice Monika Schmidt said Lyel created a false Gmail account to write the email chain, and did not reveal her deception to the judge or the home’s owners “neither that day nor subsequently”.
Contempt proceedings were brought against Lyel in December 2019 and she admitted to what she had done in March this year.
Acting Justice Schmidt said Lyel continued to falsely claim, in an August 2020 affidavit sworn for her sentencing proceedings, that she missed an NCAT hearing in 2016 because she was in hospital having a tumour removed. Lyel was confronted with hospital records in cross-examination which showed this was not the case.
Contempt can be punished by a fine, a custodial sentence, or both, but Acting Justice Schmidt said it was agreed that Lyel “has no capacity to meet any fine which could be imposed on her”.
She imposed a sentence of four months’ imprisonment, noting that Lyel was not of prior good character and the contempt “[struck] as it did at the heart of the justice system”.
Acting Justice Schmidt said the facts and other evidence establish Lyel committed “serious criminal and contumacious contempt of this Court” by denying the property owners their right to be heard.
“It is relevant that what she so did was entirely for her personal benefit and their detriment,” Acting Justice Schmidt said. “Incredibly, even on sentence she wrongly sought to advantage herself by the untrue affidavit which she swore.”
Acting Justice Schmidt said Lyel spoke to a forensic psychiatrist about her “very difficult and unusual life experiences”, including being harassed and intimidated by police for several weeks, becoming homeless, and being pursued by a woman from Tamworth who became “obsessed” with her.
The judge said what Lyel said about these experiences “has to be approached with some caution” and “I am not confident that all she has said … was unembellished”.
Lyel told the court that she looked back on “misleading the court so significantly” and was “appalled at what I have done and very sorry”.
“At the time, I know that I was not thinking clearly, so caught up in my own desperation and not considering the implications or the impact. But now, I am deeply embarrassed and I understand the seriousness of my actions,” Lyel said.
Acting Justice Schmidt said the genuineness of the remorse expressed “cannot be accepted” because had Lyel genuinely been contrite, “she would not have persisted in the false evidence which she gave in the affidavit”.
The judge said mental health problems Lyel experienced, including alcoholism, depressive disorder and an anxiety disorder, “were not so severe as to have impaired her ability to plan and then implement the various steps” she used to mislead the court.
“[Lyel] and others must be deterred from pursuing such a serious interference in the proper administration of justice,” Acting Justice Schmidt said.
“[T]here is a real need for others to be protected when she accesses or is involved in the legal system.”
Lyel is due to be released on April 7, 2021.
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Georgina Mitchell is a court reporter for The Sydney Morning Herald.