Warren’s Charter

No, the blog isn’t back. But I thought it was worth easing my resolve a touch to mark an event that is an antidote, for now, to so much that bothered me last year: a genuinely great Charter decision.

No, make that a terrific Charter decision! The best decision ever! OMFG… The case is Re an application under the Major Crime (Investigative Powers) Act 2004 [2009] VSC 381. This is the resolution (for now) of what I referred to on Charterblog as Bongiorno J’s challenge, here and here.

The case concerns Victorian anti-organised-crime legislation, passed in 2004 at the height of the gangland war (don’t mention the war! It’s suppressed.) which gave the Orwellian ‘Chief Examiner’ the power (on application to a court) to coercively question (or demand documents from) anyone suspected of involving in organised crime. (Similar powers are awarded to the Director, Police Integrity and the Special Investigators Monitor, in police corruption matters.) No, the coercion isn’t torture, but only up to five years in Barwon’s Acacia Unit.

Crucially, the legislation expressly abrogates the privilege against self-incrimination but only provides for a limited immunity against the use of answers in a later prosecution:

39. Privilege against self-incrimination abrogated

(1) A person is not excused from answering a question or giving information at an examination, or from producing a document or other thing at an examination or in accordance with a witness summons, on the ground that the answer to the question, the information, or the production of the document or other thing,
might tend to incriminate the person or make the person liable to a penalty.

(2) Subsection (3) limits the use that can be made of any answers given at an examination before the Chief Examiner, or documents or other things produced at an examination before the Chief Examiner or in accordance with a witness summons.

(3) The answer, or the document or other thing, is not admissible in evidence against the person in- (a) a criminal proceeding; or (b) a proceeding for the imposition of a penalty- other than- (c) proceedings in respect of an offence against this Act; or (d) proceedings under the Confiscation Act 1997; or (e) a proceeding in respect of- (i) in the case of an answer, the falsity of the answer; or (ii) in the case of the production of a document, the falsity of any statement contained in the document.

Section 39(3) stops the examinee’s answers or compelled documents being used against him/her. But the controversy is that it doesn’t stop the later use of evidence derived from those answer/documents being used against the examinee in a criminal prosecution. So, if you are asked to say where you buried a body (on pain of contempt or perjury), your answers can’t be used against you, but the body can! Great. The controversy is heightened because the legislation specifically allows the questioning of people facing criminal charges. (See s29. The Chief Examiner is required to take reasonable steps not to ‘prejudice’ the ongoing proceedings, a nod to an earlier High Court case, Hammond.)

I called this Bongiorno’s challenge, because he decided last year in an unpublished decision that the Charter ‘s rights against self-incrimination mean that courts, in granting applications to the Chief Examiner, should include a condition barring the questioning of charged persons. The present case is an appeal to the Supreme Court against the imposition of such a condition. The identity of the charged person remains a mystery. CoughMokbel! Actually, I have no idea. Hilariously, the identity of the applicant, DAS, ‘a member of Victoria police’, is also a mystery. Joanna Davidson represented him/her/it, and Kris Walker represented VEOHRC, in a rare intervention. [But see the EDIT below.] It’s an all-acronym case! But the A-G was a no-show.

The case went before Warren CJ. Now, I’ve been very hard on Marilyn Warren in my blogging, mainly because of her role in the Unberbelly debacle, but also because of her cavalier treatment of a lesser free speech claim in a leaking case. Those were indeed awful decisions. But I no longer question Warren’s abilities or dedication to the Charter. This decision is a tour de force, not only of Charter law, but also of the law of self-incrimination and evidence. Full disclosure: it also accords (somewhat) with what SARC said in its report on a similar scheme in the Police Integrity Bill: . Go SARC! It also largely contradicts what the Police Minister said in response to SARC’s queries. Sorry Bob…

The whole of Warren’s decision is worth reading, but here are the highlights: Continue reading

Giuseppe De Simone redux

[EDIT: Here, at last, the post VCAT suppressed, originally written over a month ago. Who knows why the suppression was ordered or lifted? The case is now available online.]

He’s baaaack! Giuseppe De Simone, readers will recall, scored a brief Charter mention on Halloween in his succesful appeal against his conviction for biting a police officer in the aftermath of a supermarket dispute involving an ice-cream he ate. But that isn’t the end of his business in Victoria’s judicial system or, for that matter, his significance for the Charter. In a recent VCAT judgment, he had another bite of the Charter cherry. Actually, it was his third. And it raises one novel issue (involving Charter s. 33, the Supreme Court referral provision) and a host of familiar ones.

The context is a building contract dispute relating to the Seachange Retirement Village at Ocean Grove  (which, for those who don’t know, is quite close to Barwon Heads, which, for those who don’t know, is the real life location of Pearl Bay, which, for those who don’t know, lucky you.) The owners of the land have sued the builders for non-performance (after the Charter s. 49(2) cut-off date, it seems) and the builders have counterclaimed for misleading conduct. In the thick of things is De Simone, managing director of the owners. On 27th July 2006, two days after the Charter became law, he sent the builders, who said they needed evidence of financing for insurance purposes, a letter on an accountant’s letterhead that appeared to confirm financing. Alas, it seems, it didn’t, but was instead a letter about a subsidiary money matter. This led to De Simone being personally joined in the action. The recent VCAT case was De Simone’s attempt to stay that part of the action.

But, before we get there, there’s an earlier Charter angle. The original VCAT officer appointed to the case early last year was Senior Member Roger Young. Young fairly quickly started to have problems with De Simone, who, it turns out, ‘has studied law but has not been a legal practitioner’. The worst sort! De Simone represented himself (for the most part) in the various directions and interlocutory hearings that arose last year and he and Young obviously didn’t get along, with Young often shutting down De Simone’s contributions (and pointedly suggesting he get a lawyer) and De Simone making applications for Young to step down due to apprehended bias (one of which was prompted by the ‘lawyer’ suggestion, which Young conceded was a lame joke.) In the end, it seems, Young just started to lose it, stopping De Simone from making relevant submissions, criticising De Simone for skipping a meeting that Young had excused him from and, most damningly, saying things like: ‘Gee whiz, I’m getting sick of you!’ (Surely likely to be the last non-ironic use of the term ‘gee whiz’ ever.) So, in the middle of this year, in Seachange Management Pty Ltd v Bevnol Constructions & Developments Pty Ltd & Ors [2008] VCAT 1479, VCAT’s (then) acting President Ian Ross exercised his powers to take over the case, citing apprehended bias, De Simone’s fair hearing right and Charter s. 24. The latter was a classic passing mention, with all the lameness and fuzziness that follows from it. Fortunately, Ross’s latest Charter judgment on the case is more substantial.

De Simone’s case for having the civil claim against him stayed arises because the builders not only sued in VCAT but also referred De Simone’s alleged financing letter shenanigans to the Geelong police. De Simone has not yet been charged (either at the time of his application, in July, or the time of the ruling, in late November), but it was accepted by all parties in the hearing that the probability of  a charge of obtaining financial advantage by deception was ‘high’, although the time-line is not known. De Simone’s application therefore raised the same issue as Trevor Flugge‘s (successful) stay application: whether the civil proceedings should be stayed to avoid prejudicing the defence of the future criminal proceedings and, in particular, whether the unpopular 1982 judgment of McMahon v Gould, which generally favoured the rights of civil litigants, should be applied. However, whereas Flugge’s action faced some significant barriers to raising the Charter (due to the federal context and the  Charter’s lack of direct application to common law rules), De Simone’s action lacks those barriers: VCAT’s jurisdiction is both Victorian and statutory.

The initial (and most novel) issue in Seachange Mangement Pty Ltd v Bevnol Constructions and Developments Pty Ltd [2008] VCAT 2629 is whether the questions pose by De Simone’s Charter challenge should be resolved by VCAT or by the Supreme Court. De Simone requested the later. Here’s the relevant Charter provision:

33(1) If, in a proceeding before a court or tribunal, a question of law arises that relates to the application of this Charter or a question arises with respect to the interpretation of a statutory provision in accordance with this Charter, that question may be referred to the Supreme Court if- (a) a party has made an application for referral; and (b) the court or tribunal considers that the question is appropriate for determination by the Supreme Court.

(2) If a question has been referred to the Supreme Court under subsection (1), the court or tribunal referring the question must not- (a) make a determination to which the question is relevant while the referral is pending; or (b) proceed in a manner or make a determination that is inconsistent with the opinion of the Supreme Court on the question.

(3) If a question is referred under subsection (1) by the Trial Division of the Supreme Court, the referral is to be made to the Court of Appeal.

This provision is the result of a recommendation by the Consultation Committee. (Interestingly, and pertinently, the Committee’s draft also required a referral to the Court of Appeal instead of the Supreme Court if the referral was from a VCAT President or Vice-President, but that equitable treatment of VCAT and the Supreme Court was excised by the meddlers. )  The Committee explained that sometimes lower courts ‘need guidance on an interpretative question’ and that the Committee ‘sees value’ in having the Supreme Court decide them (following notice to the A-G and VEORHC.) So, it’s another plank in the Committee’s ‘don’t let lesser lawyers or officers stuff up our precious Charter; that’s a job for the Attorney-General and the Supreme Court’ philosophy. However, unlike the risible Charter s. 35, this provision is ameliorated by the sensible constraints of requiring both a party request and a determination by the first instance officer, before the higher authorities stick their collective nose in.

God knows why De Simone made his application (relating to both the application of Charter s. 24 directly to VCAT and its application to the procedural provisions in the VCAT Act), though you’d have to wonder whether he just wanted to delay the civil claim against him under Charter. s33(2)(a), which would probably be as good as getting a stay. But the interesting question is when and on what basis such an application should be granted under Charter. s. 33(1)(b). Neither the Consultation Committee’s report nor the EM given even the slightest hint of when a question ‘is appropriate for determination by the Supreme Court’ [sic – or the Court of Appeal.] Here’s Ross’s take:

I am not persuaded that it is appropriate to refer either of these questions to the Supreme Court pursuant to s 38(1) [sic]. The issues raised by the questions were fully ventilated in the proceedings as was the application of the relevant principles to the facts of this matter. In my view the most expeditious course is to determine the application. Any party aggrieved by the decision may exercise their appeal rights and the issues sought to be determined by the referral application may be determined in that context.

Well, I’m not persuaded by this. Surely, the major issue under Charter s. 33(1(b) is whether or not the question is important enough to require authoritative determination, both for the benefit of the immediate matter and for other similar proceedings. The application of McMahon v Gould in VCAT matters would seem to fit the bill, especially given the enormous criticism of that case, including recently in the Supreme Court. The major counter-factor would be the impact of Charter s. 33(2)(a) on the proceeding itself. Perhaps that’d be a weighty factor, but Ross doesn’t discuss whether or not the builders or owners would be prejudiced by delaying the counter-claim against De Simone (who, it must be remembered, was a late joinder to the original dispute between the two companies.) Of course, there’s a certain sense in Ross’s notion that the matter could be dealt with by the Supreme Court on appeal (and that there’s no reason why Ross can’t resolve the matter himself), but that sense seems to be at odds with the whole (elitist) point of Charter s. 33.

Personally, if the parties are willing – or if one party is keen and the other isn’t prejudiced overly –  it strikes me as a good thing to fast-track major issues to the Supreme Court and Court of Appeal, at least while so many crucial things about the Charter remain unresolved. For instance, what really is the point of Bell J’s current lengthy hearings about mental health, FOI and the definition of public authority, when those matters are all so contentious that they will inevitably have to be sorted out by the Court of Appeal (and perhaps the High Court)? If the parties are fine with doing things the slow way, then I have no objection. But otherwise? The quicker these major questions about how the Charter works are authoratitively resolved, the better, surely?

Anyhow, for better or for worse, Ross proceeded to resolve the matter himself. The good news is that he (and, it seems, the lawyers, and maybe even De Simone) were well versed in Charter Operative Provisions 101:

The Charter may impact on VCAT’s work in three ways:

  • if VCAT is a ‘public authority’ s 38(1) provides that it would be unlawful for it to act incompatibly with human rights (subject to the exceptions in ss 338(2) and (4));
  • all statutory provisions must be interpreted in a way that is compatible with human rights (s 32(1)); and
  • the Charter applies to courts and tribunals to the extent that they have functions under Part 2 and Division 3 of Part 3 of the Charter (s 6(2)(b)).

Oh, thank you Ian Ross! You can read! I’m not being facetious. You are streets ahead of most of your supposed betters on the Supreme Court: the Bongiornos, the Lasries, the Hollingworths, etc. You’ve even noticed the exceptions to the conduct mandate, including the most important one. Praise be. After nearly a year of blogging this stuff, I’m genuinely impressed. Which is actually tragic. Alas – readers of the blog know what’s coming! – Ross’s approach to the subtleties of the Charter didn’t quite match his precise grasp of the basics. Continue reading

VCAT vs the Charter

Two interesting new Charter cases have emerged from that hotbed of Charter lip service, VCAT.  But I can only talk about one of them!

The public one is TGM Investments Pty Ltd v Rosenfield [2008] VCAT 2407, a retail tenancies dispute (although it’s not clear what the substantive issue is.) The procedural involves legal representation in VCAT. VCAT is a lawyer free haven, but there are exceptions:

62 (1) In any proceeding a party…  (b) may be represented by a professional advocate if- … (iii) another party to the proceeding who is permitted under this section to be represented by a professional advocate is so represented…

One party, TGM Investments, is described as being represented by ‘Mr D Anthony, Solicitor‘. So, the result is that the other party, Mr Rosenfield, is entitled to be represted by a ‘professional advocate’. The issue in this case is whether Rosenfield is entitled to be represented by his advocate of choice, a ‘Mr J Foster of Counsel’.

The problem is that Foster represented TGM three years ago in another retail tenancies matter. Moreover, it even involved the same ‘building’ (though not the same bit of the building.) The issue was raised between the parties during settlement negotations and TGM weren’t bothered, but it seems that that agreement has fallen apart. TGM has asked for Foster to be booted off Rosenfield’s case.

VCAT Senior Member Damien Cremean – who taught in a subject I coordinated here at Melbourne Law School last semester (hi Damien!) – granted TGM’s request. His main ground involved the risk (denied by Foster) that Foster might be privy to some sort of secrets gained from his service to TGM and that Foster may (for that or other reasons) be unable to meet the requirement of ‘purity of interest in the adversaries’ that Cremean suggested was required by VCAT’s statutory provisions demanding that its proceedings be conducted fairly. Personally, I have never been impressed by the view that lawyers somehow become affiliated to a party simply by representing them. It’s a view that simultaneously overvalues the service lawyers offer while denigrating their supposed professionalism. The confidential information issue is, by contrast, a real one, but it surely requires something a bit more solid than straight-out speculation.

What’s crucial is the other side of the coin: that Rosenfield is being denied a lawyer of his choice (while TGM has no such burder.) If this was a criminal matter, that’d be a breach of Charter s. 25(2)(d), but this is, instead, a civil matter. Nevertheless, surely fairness will typically involve legal represntation of choice; it definitely requires equality of arms, which seems to be a little shaky here. Cremean, however, cited the Charter in TGM’s favour:

I am concerned with the outward perception of the performance of the Tribunal’s duty under the Act particularly s97. The duty to act fairly could be seen to be compromised if I allowed a member of Counsel to appear against a client for which he previously acted not very long ago. The perception could be that he might have available to him or her information given in confidence and might, unwittingly, use it. This is especially so when the factual contexts in both cases are not dissimilar. It is important also to note the fair hearing right given by s24 of the Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities Act 2006. I do not consider it proper in the circumstances to allow Mr Foster to appear.

A classic passing mention, in that it doesn’t pay much attention to such niceties as the relevant operational provisions and any compelling comparative law judgments. Interestingly, Cremean’s argument – which notably only seems to focus on the fair hearing rights of TGM – seems to be in breach of Charter s. 6(1), which says that only human beings have human rights and specifically denies them to corporations like TGM. I’m no fan of Charter s. 6(1), especially in this context, but its effect does seem to be that, at least under the Charter, it’s Rosenfield’s fair hearing right that should have been promoted (with TGM’s and VCAT’s interests demoted to a factor in a Charter s. 7(2) or Charter s. 38(2) analysis.) Oops.

Alas, there has been at least one more VCAT judgment on the Charter in recent times that goes way beyond a passing mention, raising a novel and interesting question about the requirements of Charter s. 33 , some familiar but interesting questions about the continued status of McMahon v Gould in light of the Charter, and does a reasonable, if not ultimately satisfying job, at grappling seriously with the operative provisions. Indeed, I’ve written a lengthy post of nearly 4000 words on the case and had it ready to go as soon as the judgment appeared publicly on Austlii. Alas, when I got a little tired of waiting for it to appear and inquired with VCAT about whether there was some sort of problem, I got a response late yesterday that – strangely, just yesterday! – President Bell issued an order suppressing the judgment – and any ‘disclosure or publication’ of it  –  until next month, except for the purposes of the parties who might wish to appeal. Was that my fault?

Doubtless, Bell has good reasons for his order. Arguably, he’d better have Continue reading

The right to Miranda

Two days ago, in Salduz v Turkey [2008] ECHR 1542, the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights unanimously overruled one of its lower chambers, in a case concerning a young man accused of breach of Turkey’s anti-terrorism laws through his alleged involvement with the PKK. Seventeen year-old Yusuf Salduz, arrested on suspicion of being involved in a PKK demonstration and hanging an illegal banner (“Long Live Leader Apo”) from a bridge, was interrogated for two days by government security officers. In accordance with the then Turkish security laws, he was not allowed a lawyer, though he was told of his right to remain silent. He confessed to the allegations and gave samples of his handwriting, which an expert report was unable to conclusively match with the banner. After his charge, he retracted the confession, but was convicted on evidence including the confession, a further expert report and evidence from his alleged partners in PKK-support.

But the facts scarcely matter. At issue was this ECHR right:

6.3 Everyone charged with a criminal offence has the following minimum rights:… (c) to defend himself in person or through legal assistance of his own choosing…

The terms of this right appear to speak about the trial itself. The ECtHR has held that it (and its allied fair hearing right) can have implications for pre-trial interrogation, but that requirement was couched in terms of flexible reasonableness standards:

National laws may attach consequences to the attitude of an accused at the initial stages of police interrogation which are decisive for the prospects of the defence in any subsequent criminal proceedings. In such circumstances, Article 6 will normally require that the accused be allowed to benefit from the assistance of a lawyer already at the initial stages of police interrogation. However, this right has so far been considered capable of being subject to restrictions for good cause. The question, in each case, has therefore been whether the restriction was justified and, if so, whether, in the light of the entirety of the proceedings, it has not deprived the accused of a fair hearing, for even a justified restriction is capable of doing so in certain circumstances…

But not any more:

[T]he Court finds that in order for the right to a fair trial to remain sufficiently “practical and effective” Article 6 § 1 [the ECHR fair hearing right] requires that, as a rule, access to a lawyer should be provided as from the first interrogation of a suspect by the police, unless it is demonstrated in the light of the particular circumstances of each case that there are compelling reasons to restrict this right. Even where compelling reasons may exceptionally justify denial of access to a lawyer, such restriction – whatever its justification – must not unduly prejudice the rights of the accused under Article 6…  The rights of the defence will in principle be irretrievably prejudiced when incriminating statements made during police interrogation without access to a lawyer are used for a conviction.

This pronouncement recalls the most famous criminal procedure case of all time: the Warren’s Court’s ruling in Miranda v Arizona:

[W]e hold that when an individual is taken into custody or otherwise deprived of his freedom by the authorities in any significant way and is subjected to questioning, the privilege against self-incrimination is jeopardized. Procedural safeguards must be employed to protect the privilege, and unless other fully effective means are adopted to notify the person of his right of silence and to assure that the exercise of the right will be scrupulously honored, the following measures are required. He must be warned prior to any questioning that he has the right to remain silent, that anything he says can be used against him in a court of law, that he has the right to the presence of an attorney, and that if he cannot afford an attorney one will be appointed for him prior to any questioning if he so desires. Opportunity to exercise these rights must be afforded to him throughout the interrogation. After such warnings have been given, and such opportunity afforded him, the individual may knowingly and intelligently waive these rights and agree to answer questions or make a statement. But unless and until such warnings and waiver are demonstrated by the prosecution at trial, no evidence obtained as a result of interrogation can be used against him

What was startling about Miranda, and is startling about Salduz, is the mandatory nature of the rule: no lawyer (and no waiver) = no admissible confession. Indeed, the link between the two cases runs deep indeed. Salduz, like Miranda, bases its rule explicitly on the privilege against self-incrimination:

In this respect, the Court underlines the importance of the investigation stage for the preparation of the criminal proceedings, as the evidence obtained during this stage determines the framework in which the offence charged will be considered at the trial..  At the same time, an accused often finds himself in a particularly vulnerable position at that stage of the proceedings, the effect of which is amplified by the fact that legislation on criminal procedure tends to become increasingly complex, notably with respect to the rules governing the gathering and use of evidence. In most cases, this particular vulnerability can only be properly compensated for by the assistance of a lawyer whose task it is, among other things, to help to ensure respect of the right of an accused not to incriminate himself. This right indeed presupposes that the prosecution in a criminal case seek to prove their case against the accused without resort to evidence obtained through methods of coercion or oppression in defiance of the will of the accused…  Early access to a lawyer is part of the procedural safeguards to which the Court will have particular regard when examining whether a procedure has extinguished the very essence of the privilege against self-incrimination.

And Salduz, like Miranda, takes a narrow view of what can count as a waiver of the right to a lawyer:

The Court further recalls that neither the letter nor the spirit of Article 6 of the Convention prevents a person from waiving of his own free will, either expressly or tacitly, the entitlement to the guarantees of a fair trial… However, if it is to be effective for Convention purposes, a waiver of the right to take part in the trial must be established in an unequivocal manner and be attended by minimum safeguards commensurate to its importance…  Thus, in the present case, no reliance can be placed on the assertion in the form stating his rights that the applicant had been reminded of his right to remain silent.

All of this is most exciting in Victoria, where Miranda has never been the rule. Continue reading

Taxi driver redux

Sophie Delaney and Vivienne Topp write in today’s Sunday Age on XFJ (the first mention of the case that I’m aware of in the broadsheet):

Not only is this a disturbing example of tabloid-driven law-making, and an undermining of the rule of law, it is also potentially discriminatory. People found not guilty due to mental illness offend because of their illness. An indiscriminate exclusion of such people from employment or participation in society is particularly questionable in the year when Victoria’s Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities has become fully operational.

It is starting to look like the Charter will inevitably be drawn into this case, despite its near miss in the VCAT judgment.

There are currently three Charter angles:

First, there’s news of an action to overturn the suppression order on XFJ’s name by VCAT:

Ms Kosky’s comments came as the Herald Sun launched legal action to unmask the man, who stabbed his wife to death in a frenzy and whose identity is suppressed by a tribunal order.

It was pointed out to me that, if the Herald Sun was able to use the Charter to reveal XFJ’s identity, then my feared head-on crash may be more of a love-in. Indeed. But it isn’t an especially likely outcome. As the Herald Sun’s owner happens to be a corporation (Herald and Weekly Times), it has no rights. This seems to be the basis on which Channel Nine’s action to get Underbelly unsuppressed came a cropper. It shouldn’t have, of course, as the VCAT suppression order (like King J’s) affects the rights of Melbournians to ‘receive information’, part of their Charter freedom of expression. As well, at a stretch, the Hun can argue that those Melbournians’ right to movement might be harmed by not knowing XFJ’s identity (as some may be deterred from taking taxis.) Even more extreme, they could claim that their rights to security or life are at stake. But that’s a two-edged sword: XFJ’s rights against discrimination, privacy, security and (at a stretch) life (and maybe his family life) are protected by the order. 

Second, there’s Kosky’s promise to appeal against the VCAT judgment:

We will look at every avenue for appeal so I can actually fix that difficulty, so everyone can feel safe when they hop in a cab. That’s what I want to be able to guarantee,” she said.

Presumably, the government will argue that Macnamara misinterpreted the word ‘comfort’ in the Transport Act’s ‘public care objective’ as about upholstery rather than the personal foibles of Melbournian taxi drivers. It’s inevitable that XFJ will resist this argument using the Charter. Macnamara didn’t have to resolve that issue, but the Supreme Court will have to. Perhaps the government will respond with Charter arguments about Melbournians’ rights. But, more likely, the government will just fight XFJ’s Charter claims tooth-and-nail. Charter s. 35 notices will have to be issued, meaning that the Attorney-General and VEOHRC will be invited to the party. Both of course will be there to provide neutral assistance, so maybe the Attorney-General will back XFJ? Anyone want to bet on that one?

Third, there’s the coming legislation. Continue reading

The Charter in passing

After midday on 22nd February 2006, four or so months before the Charter was enacted, Peter Kokkios took a walk through Richmond’s public housing estate, not far from where I live. He was approached by a short skinny man and a tall fat one – that rules me out! – who asked him for a cigarette. When Kokkios said no, the next request was for his $1800(!) Tag Heuer watch, a request backed up by a syringe produced by the skinny guy. After taking a further $50 from Kokkios’s pocket, they ran off, with the taller one shouting ‘Come on Ant!’. Who was this ‘Ant’?

Mr Kokkios recalled that the skinny man had bloodshot and baggy eyes along with bad skin and bad breath. Mr Kokkis recalled that he was about 5 feet 10 inches tall and his hair, which was slicked or combed back, was black. He recalled that the skinny man looked European – Italian or Greek – was clean shaven, had brown eyes, a very long and skinny face and was approximately 20 to 25 years old. He recalled that he was wearing a red top and black ‘parachute’ tracksuit pants and a red T-shirt.

The next day, Kokkios identified Antonio Falcone from a photoboard. Falcone’s alibi wasn’t the best. He said that he went with his mum to the Commonwealth bank on nearby Bridge Road to get some money out, but left empty-handed when it turned out his account was in the red. A computer record showed that his discussion with the bank happened at 11.40AM. The disappointed pair went home. A couple of hours later, Falcone pawned some of Mrs Falcone’s jewelry. He denied having entered the housing estate that or wearing red or black clothing.

At Falcone’s trial for armed robbery, late last year, the deliberating jury had the following question for the trial judge:

If we find that we can place him at the scene, but believe he is not the man with the syringe, can we still find him guilty?

The jury’s question probably arose because of the account of Raglus, another possible eyewitness, who said he saw two men eyeing off a flash car near the housing estate close to midday. The witness also identified Falcone from a photoboard, but said that it was the other taller guy who was wearing red and black. After consulting both counsel, the trial judge responded:

If you find that the accused man wasn’t the one with the syringe, then you must have a reasonable doubt about the identification made by Mr Kokkios as identifying this accused man because he gives no description of Man No. 2 other than broader and bigger than Man No. 1. So if you were to reach this position then you must look at what’s left before you in the case and that’s the evidence of Scott Raglus and what you make of that, the evidence of Mr Trojan the man at the bank and what you make of that, the evidence of Mr Falcone and Detective Senior Constable Roberts and finally what the accused man had to say during his interview with the police. So that’s how I’m going to answer your question and I’ll otherwise ask you to return to the jury room and if there’s anything else that I can assist you with, please let me know

I’m not convinced that this is actually what the jury wanted to know. This account is directed to whether or not the evidence could support a finding that Falcone was the other man. But I suspect that what the jury really wanted to know was whether you could still be guilty of armed robbery even if you weren’t the one carrying the syringe. Because of the doctrine of ‘acting in concert’, the answer is, almost certainly, yes, as the trial judge had earlier directed them. Three days later, the jury convicted Falcone of armed robbery. In R v Falcone [2008] VSC 225, the Court of Appeal overturned Falcone’s conviction and ordered a new trial. The reason was that the Crown’s sole theory presented in the trial was that Falcone was the guy with the syringe. Australia’s common law doesn’t allow a new factual theory to be introduced without the defendant having a chance to respond. So, the trial judge should, instead, have answered ‘no’. 

This mundane, if somewhat depressing, procedural error yielded the following Charter remark from Vickery J, writing the judgment for the court:

The right to a fair trial is an essential safeguard of the liberty of the individual under the law. It finds expression in Article 14 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights 1966 and is reinforced by s 24 of the Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities Act 2006 (Vic).

This is a ‘passing mention’. I complained about this practice back in February, during the (in hindsight) happy era when the Supreme Court’s jurisprudence was characterised by feel-good vagueness, rather than the misreadings and lousy analysis that soon rose to the fore. It is to be distinguished from both the outright sloppiness of approaches like Bongiorno’s and Lasry’s (amongst other reasons, because the Charter wasn’t applicable in Falcone’s case due to Charter s. 49(2)) and also the helpful approach of Neave and Warren (who mentioned the Charter to indicate what difference it may make in the future.) Rather, Vickery’s approach is similar to the dull jurisprudence of the ACT Supreme Court on its HRA, where the Charter is seen as, in some vague and unimportant way, restating the existing law. It’s worth recalling why this is a lousy practice. Continue reading

The right not to be hurt

A tiny Supreme Court judgment from a month back has appeared on Austlii. Daniels v Bayside Health [2008] VSC 472 involves an unrepresented man who is convinced that his son’s health and, possibly, his life is in danger from treatment he is receiving as an involuntary patient under the Mental Health Act 1986 at Thomas Embling Hospital. Bernard Daniels has been told be Dr Yolanda Lucire, a Sydney doctor, that his son Garth has been misdiagnosed as a schizophrenic and instead has had a variety of other conditions for the last ten years. Her opinion is that the treatment Garth is receiving, valium and zuclopenthixol, is likely to cause harm to him, in particular to his muscles. The treating doctors acknowledge that the medicine has its risks, but dispute the doctor’s diagnosis of a complicating condition called neuroleptic malignant syndrome.

Daniels senior lodged a review with the Mental Health Review Board but turned up at the Supreme Court because he wanted the medication stopped prior to that review. The Mental Health Act requires that all patients (and, presumably, as appropriate, their guardians) be told their rights. Recent new regulations specify that involuntary patients be told of their Charter rights in these terms:

The Victorian Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities Act 2006 seeks to promote and protect certain human rights. The Charter defines the protected rights and requires public mental health services to act compatibly with these rights. The Charter also specifies when and how rights can be limited by law. For example, under the Mental Health Act 1986 you may be detained in a mental health service if it is necessary to protect your health or safety or the safety of others. However, any restrictions on your liberty and any interference with your rights, privacy, dignity and self-respect must be kept to the minimum necessary in the circumstances. If you have any questions about the Charter or how it might affect your treatment, contact one of the organisations described at the end of this statement.

This does a nice, if inevitably inadequate job, of explaining the nuances of the Charter. It doesn’t, for example, address the complex issue of whether the Charter places some fundamental new limits on treatment, notably when the treatment is a threat to someone’s health, as Lucire alleges in this case. The statement directs patients wanting more information to VEOHRC. It’d be interesting to know what they’d say in this circumstance.

Daniels senior raised the Charter in these terms:

In the course of his argument, Mr Daniels has raised a large number of matters, many of which are not really matters which I need or can determine at this stage. He raised questions of procedural fairness, the entitlement of his son not to suffer torture under the Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities 2006, the entitlement of his son not to suffer death or to be at risk of death under the Charter.

Not a bad effort. Daniels has obviously read Charter ss. 9 and 10. The difficulty for him, alas, was that, testifying by phone before the Supreme COurt, Lucire didn’t support the claims of threats to Garth’s life or that there was an intermediate risk, e.g. to his heart muscles. 

Daniels’s reference to procedural fairness – it’s not clear what fairness issues were at stake – was presumably to Charter s. 24. At the Protecting Human Rights conference, I observed that the Attorney-General, intervening in a Mental Health Review Board matter, was described in the judgment as submitting that the right to a fair hearing doesn’t apply to mental health matters. However, Joanna Davidson, in the audience, publicly and firmly objected to my ‘mischaracterisation’, insisting that the issue only arose in passing and that she only canvassed the law briefly. Her vehemence carried the clear implication, before an audience with considerable interest in this matter, that the Attorney-General would never take such a miserly stance. That very public exchange would be quite a relief to many stakeholders in mental health, including Daniels. 

Justice David Byrne treated the matter with appropriate flexibility, deeming it to be an application for an interim injunction for a variation to Garth’s treatment order (even though no application was actually filed.) However, the application was dismissed:

In the circumstances and given the limited area of my concern in this type of application, I find myself not satisfied that the current medication is so dangerous as to warrant the intervention of the court, assuming that the court has the power to intervene in such a case. Accordingly, the application for interim injunctive relief must fail.

While Bryne’s stance is understandable, I’m not convinced that the test applied is appropriate in light of the Charter. While it’s clear that findings weren’t open about breaches of Garth’s rights to life and against degrading treatment, I think that things are a little different given a further Charter right: Continue reading