The High Court has dismissed an appeal on a constitutional matter on the operation of s 79 of the Judiciary Act 1903 (Cth). The appellant was a New South Wales resident who was convicted of state drug offences against s 6(1)(a) of the Misuse of Drugs Act 1981 (WA) in the Western Australia District Court by a majority jury verdict. As the trial was a ‘federal diversity’ matter (that is, between a state and the resident of another state), the WADC tried the appellant in exercise of its federal jurisdiction. The WASCA dismissed his arguments that this majority verdict was inconsistent with the requirement in s 80 of the Constitution that juries must return unanimous verdicts for convictions, and held that Western Australia’s state law on majority verdicts, and not s 80, applied to the case as a federal diversity matter, due to the operation of s 79. Before the High Court the appellant sought to contend that the WASCA erred in its application of the High Court’s decision in Momcilovic v The Queen  HCA 34, and that it erred in its approach to the interaction between the State law and s 79.
The High Court unanimously dismissed the appeal.
The plurality (Bell, Gageler, Keane, Nettle and Gordon JJ) held that s 6(1)(a) applied at the time of the appellant’s offences and continued to govern the assessment of his criminal liability, even though the WADC exercised federal jurisdiction to resolve the controversy between the appellant and WA about the Continue reading
The High Court has allowed an appeal against a decision of the Victorian Court of Appeal on the admissibility of photoboard identification evidence. The respondent was convicted of intentionally causing serious injury and making a threat to kill on the basis that he was the ‘old man’ who participated in a gang bashing, as identified by the victim, who selected him from a photoboard two years after the crime (but had made other wrong selections at the time). A majority of the VSCA allowed his appeal against conviction, holding that the trial judge erred in failing to exclude the photobaord evidence because its ‘seductive quality’ outweighed its weak probative value, setting aside the convictions and ordering a new trial. Before the High Court, the Crown sought to challenge these conclusions, and contended that the VSCA erred in assessing the probative value by reference to the complainant’s unreliability.
The High Court (Kiefel CJ, Bell, Keane, Nettle and Edelman JJ) unanimously allowed the appeal and restored the convictions, holding that the real issue was the majority’s conclusion that the identification’s probative value was outweighed by the danger of unfair prejudice to the respondent: Continue reading
The High Court has allowed an appeal against a decision of the Queensland Court of Appeal on unreasonable or insupportable jury verdicts. The appellant was convicted of aggravated indecent dealing with a child and acquitted of two other counts of the same offence. A majority of the QCA (Atkinson J, Morrison JA agreeing) rejected his appeal against that conviction, in which he contended that the guilty verdict was inconsistent with the not guilty verdicts for the other counts. Before the High Court, the appellant argued that the QCA majority failed to make an independent assessment of the evidence in determining that it was open to the jury to convict him, and that the majority erred in concluding that the verdict was not unreasonable (see at –[22).
The High Court unanimously allowed the appeal. The plurality judges (Bell, Gageler, Nettle and Gordon JJ) noted that there was ‘force’ to the appellant’s arguments that the lead judgment of Atkinson J did not disclose her Honour’s own Continue reading
UNSW Law Journal has now released the video of Bell J’s keynote speech at the launch of its thematic issue on ‘The Individual Judge.’ Pleasingly, this was certainly no puff piece. Beyond praising the journal’s ‘honoured place’ amongst peer-reviewed law journals and describing the issue as ‘very readable and stimulating’, she didn’t (unless I missed something) have a single good thing to say about any of the papers inside it. Indeed, she strongly criticised several and threw in some critiques of academic writing on the Court’s 2013 Monis decision to boot. Her language was forceful and full of humour, and many of her arguments were persuasive. All of this, in my view, is a powerful example of everything we lose when each High Court judge’s individual voice is submerged in anonymous and depersonalised joint judgments.
Unsurprisingly, Bell J directly addressed the paper by Partovi et al identifying the authors of the Mason Court’s joint judgments, discussed here. She says: Continue reading