Honeysett v The Queen

Andrew Roberts, ‘Expert Evidence and Unreliability in the High Court: Honeysett v The Queen‘ (3 September 2014).

The High Court has unanimously allowed an appeal against the decision of the NSW Court of Criminal Appeal in R v Honeysett, and has quashed the appellant’s conviction and ordered a new trial. Honeysett was convicted of armed robbery, but sought to challenge the forensic expert evidence of Professor Henneberg, an anatomy professor, who had studied the CCTV footage of the robbery and Honeysett’s appearance and concluded that there were eight common features between the offender and Honeysett. The NSWCCA unanimously dismissed Honeysett’s appeal, holding that Henneberg’s evidence was admissible on the basis of his knowledge of anatomy, his close study of the videos, and the fact that the jury could not reasonably have interpreted that evidence as implying there were ‘no points of difference’ between the individuals (as the appellant had argued).

The High Court unanimously held Henneberg’s evidence was inadmissible as opinion evidence adduced to prove the existence of the fact about which the opinion was expressed: [21]. The ‘specialised knowledge’ exception to this rule did not apply. While specialised knowledge does not necessarily require formal qualifications, a person’s training, study or experience must result in the acquisition of knowledge ([23]), and the opinion must be at least substantially based on that knowledge ([24]). The Court held that Henneberg’s evidence was not based on his ‘undoubted knowledge of anatomy’, but rather his subjective impression from looking at the images ([43]), and gave an ‘unwarranted appearance’ of being scientific ([45]). Consequently it was not based wholly or substantially on his specialised knowledge, and should not have been admitted.

High Court Judgment [2014] HCA 29 13 August 2014
Result Appeal allowed
High Court Documents Honeysett v The Queen
Full Court Hearing [2014] HCATrans 121  12 June 2014
Special Leave Hearing [2014] HCATrans 57 14 March 2014
Appeal from NSWCCA [2013] NSWCCA 135 5 June 2013
Trial Judgment, NSWDC
Case No 2009/60929 26 August 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.