James v The Queen

A majority of the High Court has dismissed an appeal against the decision of the Victorian Court of Appeal relating to alternative verdicts in criminal trials. The appellant was convicted of intentionally causing serious injury for hitting the victim with his car, and was sentenced to eight years and six months in prison. On appeal, the VCA rejected the appellant’s argument that the trial judge’s was required to leave the alternative verdict of intentionally causing injury open to the jury, and that her Honour’s failure to do so made the conviction unsound (even though defence counsel had not chosen to leave that verdict open for forensic reasons).

The majority (French CJ, Hayne, Crennan, Kiefel, Bell and Keane JJ) held that the trial judge was not required to instruct the jury that further alternative verdicts were available in the case. The trial judge’s duty to instruct on alternative verdicts stems from the broader duty of securing a fair trial, and whether the failure to do so occasioned a miscarriage of justice requires the court to consider what justice to the accused required in the circumstances of the case. Those considerations involve the real issues in the case and forensic choices of defence counsel during trial. Because the central issue at trial was whether the prosecution could exclude the reasonable possibility that the appellant struck the victim inadvertently with his car, instructing the jury on alternative verdicts may have blurred that issue and jeopardised the appellant’s chances of acquittal. Gageler J dissented.

High Court Judgment [2014] HCA 6 5 March 2014
Result Appeal dismissed
High Court Documents James v The Queen
Full Court Hearing [2013] HCATrans 266  7 November 2013
Special Leave Hearing [2013] HCATrans 183 16 August 2013
Appeal from VSCA [2013] VSCA 55 19 March 2013
Trial Judgment, VSC
[2011] VSC 596 22 November 2011
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About Martin Clark

Martin Clark is a PhD Candidate and Judge Dame Rosalyn Higgins Scholar at the London School of Economics and Political Science and Research Fellow at Melbourne Law School. He holds honours degrees in law, history and philosophy from the University of Melbourne, and an MPhil in Law from MLS. While at MLS, he worked as a researcher for several senior faculty members, was a 2012 Editor of the Melbourne Journal of International Law, tutor at MLS and various colleges, a Jessie Legatt Scholar, and attended the Center for Transnational Legal Studies Program.