Flugge’s challenge

flugge_narrowweb__300x4530Boy, it’s suddenly gotten busy. Two challenges to SSOMA . One to MC(IP)A. Bell’s hearing next week on mental health. A taste of Victoria’s glorious Chartered future. But those are pending matters. Decided matters still drip through and make little splash. Today, the Victorian Supreme Court issued judgment in Trevor Flugge’s Charter challenge, Re AWB Limited [2008] VSC 473. Flugge won, but the Charter point wasn’t considered.

Flugge’s case and its demise follows directly from these conclusions of the Cole report into the Australian Wheat Boad’s role in the Oil-for-Food scandal:

I]n my view:

  • Mr Flugge might have been either reckless, or intentionally dishonest, and might have failed to exercise his powers or discharge his duties either in good faith in the best interests of AWB or for a proper purpose and therefore might have committed an offence against s 184(1) of the Corporations Act 2001
  • Mr Flugge might have dishonestly used his position and been reckless as to whether the use of his position may have resulted in Iraq or an Iraqi entity directly or indirectly gaining an advantage and therefore might have committed an offence against s 184(2) of the Corporations Act 2001
  • Mr Flugge might have failed to exercise his powers and discharge his duties in the best interests of AWB and for a proper purpose and therefore might have contravened s 181 of the Corporations Act 2001
  • Mr Flugge might have failed to exercise his powers and discharge his duties with the degree of care and diligence that a reasonable person would exercise if they were a director of a corporation in AWB’s circumstances and occupied the office held by, and had the same responsibilities within the corporation, as Mr Flugge and therefore might have contravened s 180 of the Corporations Act 2001.

It is a serious matter for an officer of a public corporation such as AWB to authorise the corporation to enter into agreements in breach of statutory duties that the officer owes to the corporation, particularly where the officer acts intentionally, dishonestly or recklessly in breach of those duties.

I recommend that this matter be referred to the Task Force for consideration of whether proceedings under sections 180, 181 and 184 of the Corporations Act 2001 be instituted against Mr Flugge.

I note that section 1317K of the Corporations Act 2001 imposes a six year limitation period for the commencement of proceedings arising from contraventions of civil penalty provisions. Accordingly, the referral to ASIC should only be in relation to the conduct of Mr Flugge that occurred from 2001 onwards

The key nuance is that Cole’s findings supported both ‘civil penalty’ proceedings (which can attract disqualification and ‘pecuniary penalties’) and criminal proceedings (which can attract fines and prison.) While the concept of a civil penalty proceedings was initially conceived as an alternative to criminal prosecution, the scheme was eventually changed to allow criminal proceedings to go ahead even though civil proceedings were in place or had concluded. The reverse couldn’t occur, unless the civil proceeding failed.

In the case of Flugge and four other directors against whom Cole recommended both civil and criminal proceedings, ASIC said that it would do the civil proceedings first, because of the civil statute of limitations. (By coincidence, one of the relevant contracts commenced on 20th December 2001, meaning that the six year cut-off was 19th December 2007. If Coghlan’s ridiculous decision in BAE Systems Australia is correct, then that starting-point, weeks before the Charter’s full commencement, would have barred the Charter from the case. That’s a point wasn’t resolved here.)

What was argued was that the serial procedings were unfair to the defendants, mainly because they would have to choose between revealing their defences (including possibly testifying) in the civil proceedings (which will feed handy information for the criminal prosecutions) or not doing so, possibly harming their civil defence. There is a provision barring the use of evidence adduced by the defendant in civil proceedings in the later criminal ones. But, like the other Charter case involving overlapping proceedings – Bongiorno’s concern about the coercive questioning regime operating in parallel with a criminal prosecution – the bar doesn’t extend to ‘derivative’ information.

Flugge et al argued that the civil proceedings ought to be stayed until the criminal matters are resolved. This would, of course, solve ASIC’s statute of limitations problem, but ASIC nevertheless resisted the stay. The question of whether or not a stay should be granted turned on a 1982 case, McMahon v Gould, which set out an ‘interests of justice’ test that gave priority to the right of ‘plaintiffs’ to pursue whatever actions they want. But later authorities suggested that the balance should shift in favour of a stay, in particular because of the potential for defendants in civil proceedings to have to testify (or otherwise defend themselves), thus undermining their right to silence in a later criminal matters. The Charter was thrown into this mess of precedents as follows: Continue reading

More on the sex offenders’ challenge

I happened to be in the legal precinct today and dropped by to listen in at the sex offenders’ challenge in the Court of Appeal. Pamela Tate was speaking (presumably for the Secretary, rather than with her ‘neutral’ hat on intevening for the Attorney-General. At least, that’s sure how it sounded.) There were nine barristers there (presumably three each for the two fiends – I spotted Kris Walker. Some VEOHRC staff were there, but it didn’t look like the commission was intervening. [EDIT: Nope, they are intervening, and will speak after the S-G. So, maybe I’m wrong and the A-G was intervening too? It’d be handy if they could colour-code those wigs of theirs.] There was no talk of a declaration, so I assume none of the required Charter s. 36(3) notices are out on that one.  

It’s dangerous to try to sense the mood when you only watch part of a case – as the mood can be the opposite when the other side speaks – but the case didn’t seem to be going at all well for Tate, with Maxwell and Weinberg both hammering into her. Nettle was quieter and even helped her out every now and then.

Anyway, some tidbits I picked up:

  • A comity of errors: One issue (possibly the only one) is the interpretation of ‘likely’ in s11 of the SSOMA. It certainly does seem to be in the cards that the CoA will overrule Callaway in TSM (despite only being a three-judge bench.) Indeed, both sides seemed to disagree with Callaway, with Tate describing his judgment as somewhat confused (which it is.) Hilariously, Tate’s argument is that Victoria should follow the present approach of the NSW Court of Appeal. Regular readers will recall that the NSWCA reached that interpretation reluctantly out of comity with Callaway in TSM! To sustain her argument, Tate had to claim that the NSWCA’s actually misinterpreted Callaway and somehow stumbled onto the right answer.  It’s hard to see how this sort of error can be persuasive, especially when the NSWCA clearly said that, but for comity, it wouldn’t have followed TSM at all but rather would have adopted a stricter standard (which, presumably, Tate thinks is the wrong standard.) Tate, trying to get away from Tilman, relied instead on the follow-up case, Cornwall. Readers will recall that Cornwall was the first bloke the NSWCA refused to detain, ruling that there was no ‘high degree of probability that he was likely’ to re-offend and that electronic supervision would do. He had his bracelet off and melted away within 30 minutes. Surprising that the Victorian government thinks that that’s the perfect test. I guess that Tate will argue that, although the NSWCA stated the correct test in Cornwall, they nevertheless misapplied it to the facts. 
  • A non-‘trivial’ bar: Tate’s big pitch was that, whatever the test is, it shouldn’t be quantitative. That’s because she knew that the court would then go for the ‘more likely than not’ standard that the NSWCA would have backed were it not for TSM, which would certainly narrow the SSOMA scheme. Not that she said that; rather, she argued (1) it would go against the legislature’s choice to use the word ‘likely’, which she claimed (to Weinberg’s incredulity) wasn’t quantitative. Maxwell kept point out that all that was clear is that the test isn’t normative (e.g. a Briginshaw-like standard that re-adjusted itself according to what issues were at stake.) Tate very reluctantly agreed with that. 2) It would encourage over-reliance on statistical expert evidence. Weinberg’s response was that the best way to stop statistical evidence is to stop asking for it and listening to it. Maxwell was concerned that trial judges need an intelligible standard. He could hardly keep a straight face when Tate suggested that defining ‘likely’ to mean ‘a sufficiently substantial risk’ would provide the required certainty (and wouldn’t be ‘normative’.)  The judges then mooted the idea that the bar should be high indeed, given how extraordinary ESOs are. Tate firmly stated that the bar should not be ‘trivial’. That’s quite a concession. She then embarked on some stats to show that of the 150 eligible offenders released last year, the Secretary only called for reports on 34 and only sought orders on 10. Of those tenm seven were granted and the other three were… pending. Weinberg asked whether that meant that none had been refused. ‘Um’ retorted the S-G, until Weinberg pointed out the math. Tate countered with more stats, which suggested that of 40 court applications to date, ‘several were withdrawn’, one was reversed on appeal and one was rejected. A high bar indeed. Attrition stats are always tricky in a discretionary system aren’t they?
  • A non-criminal process for locking up criminals: ‘So, you’d better address Charter s 7(2) then’, said Maxwell. Uh, there’s an intervening step, said Tate: have any rights been limited? That is indeed true, but why she wanted to embark down that road is beyond me. But embark she did, passionately arguing that Charter ss. 25(c), 26 and 27 didn’t apply because of Fardon, the High Court’s umpteenth refusal to apply Kable. Maxwell was a bit dubious about the relevance of Chapter 3 to the meaning of ‘punish’, but Tate pressed Gummow’s  ‘normative scheme’ approach. According to Gummow, ESOs are nothing at all like criminal sentencing, because ESOs are simply triggered by guilt but are imposed for other reasons. As opposed to sentencing, which… um…. anyway. Tate also mentioned a UK case that Maxwell snorted was about non-contact orders, not supervision. Somehow, the model litigant didn’t see fit to talk about Belcher, where the NZCA held that almost identical legislation was punishment for the purposes of NZBoRA’s criminal process rights. I guess that’s in the written arguments. But why wouldn’t she be responding to what her opponents said on that? I hope they know about it! Weinberg raised the fact that SSOMA says that proceedings are criminal. Tate said that was not-determinative but just a starting point and was just a mechanism to ensure that the Secretary had the same obligations as a prosecutor. Weinberg was confused: does the Secretary usually have less obligations than a prosecutor? Nettle chimed in with something about having to call adverse witnesses. Maxwell suggested that, if the proceedings are criminal, then maybe contested facts need to be proven beyond reasonable doubt? Tate said she was sur that the test was balance of probabilities. But you’ve gotta wonder if that will be true in 2010 when s141 of the Evidence Act 2008 kicks in.
  • ESOs and helicopter mums: Tate did concede that ESOs limited one right: freedom of movement. (It’s not clear whether or not the fiends raised any others. Self-incrim, alas, didn’t get a look-in.) So, it’s time for 7(2). Tate started by saying that you need to look closely at the nature of the right. Weinberg said: movement’s pretty important isn’t it? It’s essential to liberty. Tate argued that, at international law, ESOs don’t engage the right to liberty at all. Maxwell asked her to say that again so that no-one misunderstands it. Ouch. She valiantly insisted that ESOs could be likened to mum and dad telling the kids to phone then when they get to their destination. Weinberg pointed out that, regardless, movement was high on the scale in 7(2)(a). Tate sounded unhappy about that. I wonder what’s high on her scale? Life, I guess. What I don’t get here is that all the arguments were about the mandatory bits of the ESO scheme. But an ESO also exposes you to the discretion of the Adult Parole Board, which can order stuff like mandatory medical treatment, having to ‘reside’ at Ararat Prison, who you can associate with, whether you can use the net, etc. There are plenty of rights limitations there. The Board, of course, isn’t bound by the Charter. So why don’t ESOs engage all those rights? It’s not clear that that’s what the sex offenders are arguing, though. Strange.

And that was it for the day. They’re at it again tomorrow, but I’ll skip it.

Again, caution is necessary, but Tate seemed to know that she’s going to ‘lose’ at least 2-1, in the sense that the judges are going to toughen up the TSL threshold to ‘more likely than not’, at least and cite the Charter as the reason. I can’t help but think that Tate is just going through the motions now and planning a High Court appeal, where the judges who were in the majority in Fardon will presumably be more sympathetic to her take on things.

The sex offenders’ challenge

My guess last post was right. (Of course, presumably the whole legal community knew this, but not me.) It’s on!:

Two convicted sex offenders are invoking Victoria’s human rights charter to appeal against being given an extended supervision order in what is a legal first.

One of the applicants is a child sex offender jailed for more than 10 years for his crimes. The man, whose name is suppressed, was convicted for sex crimes against his teenage daughter, another teenage girl and his adult partner. He was given a 10-year extended supervision order when he finished his jail term after a County Court judge found a “high degree of probability” he was likely to further offend. However, his lawyer Graham Thomas SC told a Court of Appeal hearing today his client was not a high-risk child sex offender and therefore not eligible to to be subject to the order.

Mr Thomas also said the sentencing judge had indicated she did not believe the man was suitable for an order but later changed her position. But counsel representing the secretary to the Department of Justice, David Grace QC, said the man’s crimes were premeditated and opportunistic. Mr Grace said the sentencing judge included in her reasons the fact the man had shown a lack of insight into his behaviour by denying his wrongdoing. He said the man jumped bail on the day he was due to attend his court hearing on his application for an extended supervision order and had refused to take part in a sex offenders program, despite being offered many times. Mr Grace said the man continued to “thumb his nose up at authority” and suggested he tried to create relationships with females with children while he was in jail so he could groom them for sexual offending.

The second sex offender is appealing an eight-year extended supervision order imposed on him by the County Court on the basis it is too long. The man, whose name is also suppressed, was jailed for more than a year for indecent assault and will also use the charter to argue his case.

Victoria became the first Australian state to implement a Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities on January 1 and it is the first time it will be considered by Victoria’s appeal court. The hearing before Justices Geoffrey Nettle, President Chris Maxwell and Mark Weinberg continues tomorrow.

Um, it’s actually the sixth time the Charter will be ‘considered’ by Victoria’s appeal court. The appeal court cited the Charter once in 2006 and four times again this year, including in its appalling Underbelly decision. Here’s hoping, though, that this will be the first time the Court actually does the Charter justice, in analysis if not in the final result. Interestingly, all three judges in this hearing are Charter virgins. The case, argued today, is listed for a second day of argument tomorrow. [EDIT: And here’s the Hun’s take. The tabloid refers to the offenders as ‘sex fiends’ (fair enough, I guess) and, as is the norm, gives more details of the legal argument than the Age.]

But what is being argued? The article is tantalisingly vague. I can see three types of rights arguments could be made about extended supervision orders (ESOs): Continue reading

Napping in the High Court

Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary,
Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten [law]–
While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping,
As of some one gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door.
“‘Tis some visitor,” I muttered, “tapping at my chamber door–
Only this, and nothing more.”

Actually, it was Judge Dodd’s aides loudly dropping those law booksto wake him up during a deadly dull drug trial.  On Thursday, the High Court added another short volume. At last, we are blessed with the reasons for judgment in  Cesan v The Queen; Mas Rivadavia v The Queen [2008] HCA 52. The problem of sleeping judges raises two great questions and one silly one:

First, how can you tell if a judge is asleep? Recently, Refshauge J of the ACT Supreme Court had to determine whether he had nodded off during a deeply-dull-sounding matter about tracing improperly transferred Commonwealth funds. Allan Endresz, one of the matter’s twenty-nine defendants, having heard about the High Court allowing Cesan’s appeal, started claiming that Refshauge was occassionally driftig off during the triall. The judge told Endresz that his argument would be stronger if he pointed it out when it happened. Andresz didn’t quite comply, with his next allegation and the alleged nap being separated by a lunch break. However, matters came to a head when Edresz produced one of his employees who had been sitting in the gallery with a notebook. TTime pressures meant that Refshauge himself had to rule on whether he had been asleep at the times noted, which he noticed was as silly (and common) as a judge ruling on whether she or he was biased. He resolved the issue by considering the evidence: that no-one noticed any snoring; that Endresz’s main evidence (a fake objection to test the judge’s wakefulness that received a slow response) was inconclusive; that other counsel disagreed with Endresz’s observations; that Refshauge didn’t recall being asleep; that his notes showed no signs of ‘squiggles’; and that the tape recording of the incident was both familiar to him and appeared to catch him coughing. Mystery solved. Refshauge ruled that he had his eyes shut to concentrate and would be cautious about his demeanour in future.

The factualy mystery was less happily resolved in Ceasan’s case. Although the defendants raised Judge Dodd’s snoozes with their counsel, he advised them that they were better off with Dodd than 85% of the NSW judiciary. (French CJ concluded that this wasn’t a reference to the judciary’s sleepiness, but rather their pro-prosecution bias. What a relief!) But they did offer a slew of affidavits from themselves and their supporters on appeal. Conveniently for them, the majority of the NSWCCA (presumably part of the 85%) were so certain that sleepiness was no injustice that they glibly accepted the evidence that Dodd was napping and the ensuring circumstances (presumably assisted by medical evidence about Dodd.) So, facts weren’t the problem in the High Court.

Second, is a sleeping judge a miscarriage of justice? This is the question the NSWCCA came a cropper on, with the majority holding that the judge’s mere physical presence (unaccompanied by actual consciousness) was enough, at least if the judge wasn’t required to make any legal rulings while napping. The High Court overruled that, but on two quite different grounds. The majority focused exclusively on evidence that the jury was distracted by the judge’s napping. Cesan’s sister said:

During the times when the judge was asleep for long periods I noticed that many of the jurors appeared not to be paying attention to what was being said and would appear restless. They would fidget, look at each other, watch the judge, look around, appear to be scribbling and generally appeared to lose concentration. This was very different to how the jury reacted when the judge was awake. At those times they would appear to be paying attention, generally looking at whoever was speaking or at their papers when asked. It was very obvious to me that there was a real difference in the jury’s behaviour when the judge was asleep.

Others testified that jurors joked, and jurors and officials slept while Dodd nodded. The majority held that such conduct was at odds with a proper trial. Trial judges had better be careful not to trigger a wave of yawns in future trials.

The new Chief Justice Robert French took a bolder view, holding that the jury’s conduct was mere evidence of a deeper problem causeed by the judge’s behaviour:

If, by reason of sleep episodes or serious inattention, the reality or the appearance exists that a trial judge has substantially failed to discharge his or her duty of supervision and control of the trial process in a trial by jury, then enough has been made out to establish a miscarriage of justice. 

The problem, French held, is the appearance of justice. Without that appearance, there might be miscarriage of justice. Refshauge better keep his eyes wide open in futere.

French held that the absence of complaint by counsel wasn’t determinative, given the amount of sleep proven and the evidence of jury distraction:

The question whether there has been the reality or appearance of a substantial failure by the judge to perform his or her duty will require assessment of a number of factors including: 1. Whether the conduct of the judge can be said to have affected the outcome of the trial. 2. Whether the conduct of the judge has created a risk that the outcome of the trial may have been affected. 3. Whether counsel raised the question of the trial judge’s conduct at the trial. 4. Whether the jury appeared to have noticed or to have been distracted or otherwise affected by the judge’s conduct.

Alas,  the other four Howard appointees and Gummow didn’ even mention French’s approach. Interesting politics, there. Perhaps they couldn’t stomach the fact that French cited a European Court of Human Rights judgment on the right to a fair hearing for his ‘appearance of justice approach.’ More likely, they were probably pissed off that French spent much of his judgment defining the term ‘miscarriage of justice’, contrary to the Gleeson court’s approach to interpreting appeal statutes, where century-old terms have been belatedly deemed undefinable and definitions are regarded as inappropriate and irrelevant judicial glosses. 

And, now, the silly question: should the defendants get a new trial? Continue reading

Bongiorno’s challenge

Last Friday’s Stateline brought some major Charter news:

As part of its election commitment, the Victorian Government introduced a Charter of Human Rights. Now Supreme Court judge Justice Bernard Bongiorno has questioned whether aspects of coercive powers legislation are in conflict with the Charter. He’s called for written submissions before deciding on the matter and has halted the granting of coercive orders to police in cases where the subject of the order has already been charged.

Um, ‘election commitment’? The Bracks Government was elected to its second term in 2002 and its third term in November 2006. Hulls’s Justice Statement announcing the Charter consultation was in May 2004 and the Charter was on the statute books in July 2006. George Williams has said that the short time frame was designed to fit in with ‘the electoral cycle’. So, let’s not engage in any revisionism, OK?

Anyway, assuming that Stateline can be trusted on the rest of its story, this is, at last, a significant Charter challenge to some significant Victorian legislation that has significant legs. Interesting that the Charter issue appears to have been raised by Bongiorno himself. That’d be the third time he’s done that (see here and here.) The challenge appears to be to the Major Crime (Investigative Powers) Act 2004, which was passed in the midst of the gangland war. (Don’t mention the war!) Its provisions allow for a ‘coercive powers order’ in the following situation:

5(1) Subject to subsection (2), a member of the police force may apply to the Supreme Court for a coercive powers order if the member suspects on reasonable grounds that an organised crime offence has been, is being or is likely to be committed.

8 The Supreme Court may make a coercive powers order if satisfied-

(a) that there are reasonable grounds for the suspicion founding the application for the order; and

(b) that it is in the public interest to make the order, having regard to- (i) the nature and gravity of the alleged organised crime offence in respect of which the order is sought; and (ii) the impact of the use of coercive powers on the rights of members of the community.

The order allows the issuing of a ‘witness summons’ to anyone over 16. That’s an offer you can’t refuse:

37(1) A person served, as prescribed by this Act, with a witness summons to appear as a witness at an examination before the Chief Examiner must not, without reasonable excuse- (a) fail to attend as required by the summons; or (b) fail to attend from day to day unless excused, or released from further attendance, by the Chief Examiner.

(2) A person appearing as a witness before the Chief Examiner must not- (a) at an examination, refuse or fail to answer a question that he or she is required to answer by the Chief Examiner; or (b) without reasonable excuse, refuse or fail to produce a document or other thing that he or she was required to produce by the witness summons.

(3) A person who contravenes subsection (1) or (2) is guilty of an indictable offence and liable to level 6 imprisonment (5 years maximum).

39(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.

So, what’s the problem? Well, it probably isn’t the Charter right to freedom of expression, because that it is glossed by a significant exception:

15(3) Special duties and responsibilities are attached to the right of freedom of expression and the right may be subject to lawful restrictions reasonably necessary-…  (b) for the protection of national security, public order, public health or public morality.

Rather, the likely ground of challenge is the Charter’s two rights affording a privilege against self-incrimination: Continue reading

The meaning of doubt

It is commonplace for jurors in Australian criminal trials to ask the trial judge to define ‘reasonable doubt’. It is also commonplace for trial judges to refuse to do so. Indeed, it is mandatory. Here’s Owen Dixon from a 1961 High Court judgment:

[I]t is a mistake to depart from the time-honoured formula. It is, I think, used by ordinary people and is understood well enough by the average man in the community. The attempts to substitute other expressions, of which there have been many examples not only here but in England, have never prospered. It is wise as well as proper to avoid such expressions.

A new jury study by NSW’s Bureau of Crime Statistics & Research proves that Dixon was wrong. 1225 jurors in 112 NSW criminal trials were asked the folllowing question

[P]eople tried in court are presumed to be innocent, unless and until they are proved guilty ‘beyond reasonable doubt’. In your view, does the phrase ‘beyond reasonable doubt’ mean [pretty likely the person is guilty/very likely the person is guilty/almost sure the person is guilty/sure the person is guilty]?

The results:

Pretty likely person is guilty: N= 119 (10.1%)

Very likely person is guilty: N= 137 (11.6%)

Almost sure person is guilty: N= 270 (22.9%)

Sure person is guilty: N= 652 (55.4%)

No-one will be panicking about the 78.3% of jurors in the latter two categories. But, bearing in mind that jurors were given a choice of all four options, the 21.7% in the first two categories are a disaster. It gets worse:

Jurors’ understanding of the concept ‘beyond reasonable doubt’ is significantly related to their understanding of the judge’s instructions on the law, whether the trial dealt with adult/child sexual offences or other offences and whether English was the juror’s first language.

Virtually every other comparative court takes the view that ‘beyond reasonable doubt’ must be defined by the judge. Here are some of the mandatory definitions:

  • United Kingdom: ”You must be completely satisfied’ or better still: ‘You must feel sure of the prisoner’s guilt’.
  • New Zealand: “A reasonable doubt is an honest and reasonable uncertainty left in your mind about the guilt of the accused after you have given careful and impartial consideration to all of the evidence.”
  • Canada: ‘[A] reasonable doubt is a doubt based on reason and common sense which must be logically based upon the evidence or lack of evidence’.
  • United States: A reasonable doubt is ‘one that is founded upon a real tangible substantial basis and not upon mere caprice and conjecture. It must be such doubt as would give rise to a grave uncertainty, raised in your mind by reasons of the unsatisfactory character of the evidence or lack thereof. A reasonable doubt is not a mere possible doubt. It is an actual substantial doubt. It is a doubt that a reasonable man can seriously entertain. What is required is not an absolute or mathematical certainty, but a moral certainty.’

But the High Court of Australia’s major authority, Green v R [1971] HCA 55, enforces the smug view that the phrase needs no definition in terms that are anything but glib:

[I]n this instance the learned trial judge, undeterred by the failures of illustrious predecessors, has made a new endeavour to explain that which requires no explanation and to improve upon the traditional formula. So far from succeeding where they did not, he has, in our opinion, not only confused the jury but has misdirected them. In consequence there must be a new trial not only in the case of Green but in that of each of the others tried with him for, as we have observed, the quoted passage of the summing up was applicable to the case of each of them. Public time and expenditure has been wasted and the time elapsing between the making of the charges and their final disposal has been unnecessarily prolonged.

The Court has maintained its view in the face of continued questioning by jurors about the definition, and even jury requests for a dictionary. The line of cases is a classic example of the non-genius of the common law method, which – in the field of trial practice – develops fixed views of fairness and practice in the absence of (and impervious to) empirical research. Doubtless, BOCSAR’s study will be dismissed as irrelevant and contrary to accepted understandings about the capacities of lay jurors.

One of my hopes for the Charter is that its right to a fair hearing, while in completely generic terms, will encourage – I’d say mandate – a re-evaluation of such non-evidence-based approaches to trial practices in Victoria. How can it be said that these two rights are being respected when 20% of jurors think that ‘proof beyond reasonable doubt’ means that guilt is ‘pretty likely’ or ‘very likely’, and when the numbers vary depending on what offence is being charged?:

24(1) A person charged with a criminal offence… has the right to have the charge… decided by a competent, independent and impartial court or tribunal after a fair and public hearing.

25(1) A person charged with a criminal offence has the right to be presumed innocent until proved guilty according to law.

The bad news is that the common law is exempted from the Charter. Heaven forbid that Victoria’s courts depart from Australia’s terrific unified common law. The Constitution would snap in half!

The good news Continue reading

A question of reputation

Black Inc Books, mysteriously undeterred by my negative-reviews-only policy, and the fact that I only review Charter books, has sent me a free copy of A Question of Power by Michelle Schwarz on the allegations that Geoff Clark raped several women in the early 1970s. I’ve followed this story with some interest since the allegations were publicised in 2001. Moreover, I was in Warrnambool recently speaking on the Charter at a Deakin Law School conference and was curious to know why such a scenic and well-located town isn’t better regarded as a holiday destination in Victoria. The Warrnambool tourist agency won’t be a big fan of this book, with its hair-raising claims of rape gangs roaming the streets in the 1970s and racists sipping lattes in the cafes in the 2000s.

But I’m a big fan and will definitely look up Schwarz’s other book, on the death of David Hookes. While the ‘true crime’ genre should be a natural for my interests, I’m no fan of blood-soaked yarns about nasty criminals, screeds against institutionalised racism or a cheap shot dig at the justice system. So, A Question of Power is my kinda crime reporting book, featuring detailed interviews with all parties and careful analysis of transcripts, including letting the subjects and, especially, the transcripts do most of the talking.

Writing about rape allegations is a very tricky thing for rights-oriented folks. Our instinctive reaction in favour of criminal defendants runs hard up against our knowledge of the sexism and nastiness of the criminal justice response to rape. Trying to stay true to both instincts is hard. I did my thesis on the presumption of innocence in rape trials in an attempt to walk the tightrope, and more recently tried to find commonalities in the legal wrongs done to each side in DNA cases. Schwarz, a former lawyer, doesn’t leap for the objectivity of legal analysis and policy arguments. Instead, she delves into the significant credibility issues on both sides. Her account of Carol Stingel’s tale shows clearly how compelling Stingel’s case is. Equally her examination of not just the federal and country town politics involved in Clark’s case but also the politics within Framlingham (home of Clark and a rival family including his other main accuser) is revelatory. She doesn’t reveal her conclusions (though it’s clear that she doubts Jo McGuiness’s tale) but I’d like to think that all the parties she interviewed (which is all of them apart from politicians), and especially Clark and Stingel, would think that her account was fair. That’s no mean feat!

Schwarz’s major opinions are reserved for Andrew Rule, author of ‘Power and Rape’, the newspaper article that aired the revelations, basically ending Clark’s career. I was very unhappy with Rule’s article when it came out, but my views have softened on airing accounts of crimes outside the judicial process. Schwarz’s argument focusses, not on the airing of the allegations, but on the lack of balance in Rule’s article. Most notably, she argues that it omits all of the bitter Framlingham politics that surrounded McGuiness’s claims. Unfortunately, the Walkley-award-winning article doesn’t seem to be available on the net, so I can’t check her account, but if it’s true then the article isn’t an account, but rather an attack. The Charter has something to say about such attacks:

13 A person has the right-… (b) not to have his or her reputation unlawfully attacked.

Of course, Rule isn’t bound by the Charter, although his article might (might!) run into trouble under the ALRC’s privacy proposal. According to Schwarz, Rule was initially happy to talk with her, but cut off contact once she revealed that her book wouldn’t have the same tone as his article. If that’s true, then Rule is a tool.

But what about the other sort of rule that is implicated in this story?: the Victorian laws that facilitated Stingel’s successful civil claim against Clark, which added the state’s imprimatur to the allegations aired by Rule. Continue reading