Australian Capital Territory

Court of Appeal

  • R v Wyper [2017] ACTCA 59 (11 December 2017) – Australian Capital Territory Court of Appeal
    Appeal against conviction’ – ‘Complainant's credibility’ – ‘Crown appeal against sentence’ – ‘Intensive correction order’ – ‘People from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds’ – ‘Post-separation violence’ – ‘Sentencing’ – ‘Sexual and reproductive abuse

    Charges: Engaging in sexual intercourse without consent and being reckless as to whether the person was consenting x 1.

    Appeal type: Defendant’s appeal against conviction and Crown appeal against sentence.

    Facts: The complainant and defendant were in a relationship ([11]). The defendant asked the complainant to leave the house; she did not want to leave. The complainant alleged that the defendant held her down and digitally penetrated her ([13]). The defendant denied that he digitally penetrated the complainant, and alleged that she damaged a number of his belongings ([14]). The defendant called the police about the property damage, and the complainant called the police about the sexual assault 2 hours later ([20]-[21]). A medical examination of the complainant revealed abrasions consistent with assault ([23]).

    The defendant was convicted at trial. He was sentenced to 2 years and 6 months’ imprisonment, served by way of intensive correction order (‘ICO’), and 100 hours’ community service ([2]).

    Issues: The defendant appealed against conviction on 3 grounds: (a) the verdict was unsafe and unsatisfactory; (b) the trial judge caused a miscarriage of justice by failing to fairly put the defence case to the jury; and (c) the trial judge caused a miscarriage of justice by failing to direct the jury that the complainant had a motive to lie.

    The Crown appealed on the ground that the sentence was manifestly inadequate.

    Decision and Reasoning: Both the defendant’s appeal against conviction and Crown appeal against sentenced were dismissed ([8]).

    Appeal against conviction

    On ground (a), the defendant argued that the verdict was unsafe and unsatisfactory having regard to the unreliability of the complainant’s evidence. The Court (Murrell CJ, Bromwich J and Robinson AJ) held that while it was ‘somewhat implausible’ that the complainant did not cause the property damage, it was open to the jury to convict the defendant ([53]).

    On grounds (b) and (c), the defendant argued that the judge should have directed the jury on the complainant’s possible motive to lie to avoid the consequences of her causing the property damage. However, the Court stated that the summing up was fair, given that the motive to lie was not a large issue in the trial ([66]-[68]).

    Crown appeal against sentence

    The Crown argued that by ordering an ICO, the trial judge failed to give adequate weight ‘to the principle that, for family violence offences, the sentencing purposes of general deterrence and denunciation are particularly important’ ([96]). The Court reiterated the importance of general and specific deterrence in sentencing family violence offenders ([97]), however, the Court emphasised the exceptional nature of the offending at [99]:

    This was not a typical offence of family violence. There was no evidence of a history of domestic violence, controlling behaviour or psychological abuse. There were none of the typical indicia of power imbalance. Rather, the offence occurred in the context of a relationship ending, without those features apparently being present.

    Imposing an ICO, while lenient, was justified by the defendant’s subjective circumstances, such as his lack of criminal history, and the fact that there was no history of domestic violence in the relationship ([129]-[130]).

  • O’Brien v R [2015] ACTCA 47 (15 May 2015) – Australian Capital Territory Court of Appeal
    Assault occasioning bodily harm’ – ‘Double jeopardy- sentencing’ – ‘Exposing a child’ – ‘Perverting the course of justice’ – ‘Physical violence and harm’ – ‘Risk factor- strangulation’ – ‘Sentence cumulation’ – ‘Sentencing’ – ‘Systems abuse’ – ‘Trafficking in cocaine

    Charge/s: Trafficking in cocaine, assault occasioning actual bodily harm (two counts), forcible confinement, perverting the course of justice. Grievous bodily harm.

    Appeal Type: Appeal against sentence.

    Facts: The sentence imposed at first instance related to three distinct instances of criminality: the drug offence, the domestic violence offences and the perverting the course of justice offence. The domestic violence offences involved the appellant severely beating his then domestic partner which caused horrific injuries. He also choked her in the presence of his young son, restrained her from leaving their premises and forced her to take prescription sedatives so as to prevent her from seeking medical treatment which would reveal the assaults. He detained her for 24 years. The perverting the course of justice offence involved the appellant encouraging his (by then former) partner not to attend court in relation to the domestic violence charges and encouraging her to produce false evidence about her psychological frame of mind. The aggregate sentence imposed was 12 years an 11 months’ imprisonment with a non-parole period of 8 years and 4 months.

    Issue/s: Whether the aggregate sentence was manifestly excessive.

    Decision and Reasoning: The appeal was dismissed. The appellant submitted that the domestic violence sentences should not have been made cumulative on the sentences for the drug offences. He also submitted that the sentencing judge did not apply the totality principle. The Court held that while the aggregate sentence could be considered by some to be somewhat harsh, it was not unreasonable and was appropriate having regard to all the circumstances. There was no overlap in the three instances of criminality, nor could it be said that the three incidents arose from a single episode or course of conduct, ‘such that the criminality involved in one of the incidents was subsumed or comprehended in the others’ (see at [29]). The sentencing judge did take accumulation, concurrency and totality into account and did impose a degree of concurrency.

  • Kien v R [2012] ACTCA 25 (24 May 2012) – Australian Capital Territory Court of Appeal
    Choking so as to render unconscious’ – ‘Exposing a child’ – ‘Intentionally inflicting actual bodily harm’ – ‘Physical violence and harm’ – ‘Provocation’ – ‘Risk factor- strangulation’ – ‘Sentencing

    Charge/s: Intentionally inflicting actual bodily harm, choking so as to render unconscious.

    Appeal Type: Appeal against sentence.

    Facts: The appellant’s marriage with his wife ended and she obtained a domestic violence protection order against him (though this was not in place at the time of the offence). The appellant went to the family home and an argument ensued, which developed into a physical fight. The appellant then took a chair from his wife (which she was threatening to throw at him) and struck her with it so forcefully that it broke into pieces. He then choked her until she became unconscious. He then wrapped a towel around her neck and used both hands to pull the material down toward the floor. A domestic violence protection order was previously in place in favour of the victim. He was subject to a good behaviour order at the time of the offences imposed for a prior breach of the protection order. He was sentenced to a total of four years and seven months’ imprisonment with a non-parole period of three years and one month.

    Issue/s:

    1. Whether the sentencing judge erred in finding that the offences were unprovoked.
    2. Whether the sentence was manifestly excessive.

    Decision and Reasoning: The appeal was dismissed.

    1. The appellant submitted that the fact the offences were not unprovoked should have mitigated the severity of the sentence. This argument was rejected — the actions of the victim were all in response to the appellant coming to the matrimonial home where he was not welcome. He was asked to leave but did not do so. His response to his wife’s actions were so disproportionate that they could not have been seen as provocative.
    2. Counsel for the appellant submitted that two comparable cases showed the sentence was manifestly excessive. This argument was rejected, with the Court holding that the offences were serious and resulted in severe facial injuries committed in a context where the appellant was not welcome in the house. While they were heavy sentences, they were proportionate to the criminality involved.
  • Stevens v McCallum [2006] ACTCA 13 (30 June 2006) – Australian Capital Territory Court of Appeal
    Assault’ – ‘Contravention of a protection order’ – ‘Evidence issues’ – ‘Hearsay’ – ‘Hostile witness’ – ‘Incompetence of counsel’ – ‘Physical violence and harm’ – ‘Protection orders’ – ‘Unco-operative witness

    Charge/s: Assault, contravention of a protection order.

    Appeal type: Appeal against conviction and appeal against sentence.

    Facts: The appellant was charged with assaulting his female partner (‘the complainant’) and contravening a protection order in her favour. He pleaded guilty to assault but not guilty to contravening a protection order. The offending came to light after a police officer (‘the informant’) attended the complainant’s premises. The informant observed that the complainant was very distressed and had bruises on her body. A conversation between the complainant and the informant was recorded. In this conversation, the complainant made some allegations that the appellant had hit her but she was largely unresponsive to questions and was affected to a considerable degree by alcohol (See [41]-[43]). At trial, the prosecution sought to prove the tape and transcript of this conversation only for its possible use in refreshing the complainant’s memory. However, counsel for the appellant, Mr Elmaraazey, tendered this document as evidence (‘exhibit 3’).

    The complainant was called to give evidence after the informant. When asked about whether there was an incident between her and the appellant, she stated ‘I can’t remember the exact details’ and proceeded to give an account of the evening that made no reference to any physical violence. She agreed that she had a conversation with the informant but could not recall its contents. The prosecution then proceeded to cross-examine the complainant about the various bruises that had been observed on her that evening. The complainant said she could not remember how the bruises happened. The prosecution applied to the magistrate for leave to cross-examine the complainant on the basis that the witness had made a prior inconsistent statement with reference to exhibit 3. Mr Elmaraazey did not object. The complainant’s response was to accept that exhibit 3 accurately reflected what she had told the informant but she could neither confirm nor deny that it represented what actually happened (See [26]-[40]). Accordingly, absent the tender of exhibit 3 as evidence, there would have been insufficient evidence to convict the appellant (See [47]).

    The magistrate found the appellant had assaulted the complainant and sentenced him to 12 months imprisonment for the assault and 3 months imprisonment for the breach of protection order. He was sentenced to an additional 6 months imprisonment for breach of an earlier imposed recognisance.

    Issue/s:

    1. The incompetence of counsel for the appellant, Mr Elmaraazey, led to a miscarriage of justice.
    2. The sentencing magistrate erred in assuming that the injuries sustained by the complainant were the result of a ‘violent and prolonged’ assault.

    Decision and reasoning: The appeal was allowed. First, in the absence of the tender of exhibit 3 by Mr Elmaraazey, it was, at the very least, unlikely that the statement would have been admitted as evidence that the appellant assaulted the complainant. It was open to the prosecutor to seek leave to give the statement to the complainant to refresh her memory, if s 32 of the Evidence Act were satisfied. However, the failure of this process to refresh the complainant’s memory meant the prosecutor could not tender the prior statement as evidence of the truth of its contents (See [145]-[180]). There was a resulting miscarriage of justice (See [181]-[191]).

    Second, the sentencing judge erred in assuming that all the injuries resulted from the charged assault. Even if the terms of exhibit 3 had been properly proved, they included an allegation of assault that had occurred the previous evening. The only unequivocal allegation of recent violence was that the appellant hit her in the face on their return from the shops. It was an error not to attempt to distinguish between the violence inflicted the previous night and those in the hours preceding the interview with the informant (See [196]-[207]).