Northern Territory

Court of Criminal Appeal

  • Emitja v The Queen [2016] NTCCA 4 (21 October 2016) – Court of Criminal Appeal of the Northern Territory
    Aboriginal and torres strait islander people’ – ‘General deterrence’ – ‘Personal deterrence’ – ‘Physical violence and harm’ – ‘Sentencing’ – ‘Unlawfully causing serious harm

    Charge/s: Unlawfully causing serious harm.

    Appeal Type: Appeal against sentence.

    Facts: The applicant and the victim had been married in a traditional Aboriginal manner for 13 years before separating in 2013. The relationship had been blighted by domestic violence, one consequence of which was the issue of a domestic violence order in 2013 protecting the victim. In 2014, the applicant entered the victim’s house without permission. The applicant kicked the victim at the bottom of her left leg, causing her compound fractures. The applicant was sentenced to six years imprisonment without a non-parole period.

    Issue/s: One of the grounds of appeal was that the sentence was manifestly excessive.

    Decision and Reasoning: The appeal was dismissed by majority (Grant CJ and Kelly J concurring, Barr J in dissent). The majority made relevant statements about domestic violence in Aboriginal communities. Grant CJ and Kelly J quoted from Amagula v White (unreported, Supreme Court of the Northern Territory, 7 January 1998): ‘The courts must do what they can to see that the pervasive violence against women in Aboriginal communities is reduced. There is a fairly widespread belief that it is acceptable for men to bash their wives in some circumstances; this belief must be erased’.

    Their Honours continued:

    ‘As this Court has repeatedly observed before and since that statement was made, such conduct must be dealt with in a manner which reflects the serious nature of the offending and its corrosive effect on well-being in Aboriginal communities’ (at [32]).

    They note that while ‘some Aboriginal communities have an unusually high incidence of serious crimes of violence and that the courts are powerless to alleviate the dysfunction and deprivation which underlies that violence. Aboriginal women and children living in those communities ‘are entitled to equality of treatment in the law’s responses to offences against them’. The protection which the law affords includes the imposition of sentences which include a component designed to deter other members of the community from committing crimes of that nature’ (see [33]-[34]). There are also practical societal reasons to consider personal and general deterrence. As in The Queen v Haji-Noor:

    ‘The offender’s crime against Mr Ellis was committed in a domestic context. Domestic violence is a leading contributor to death, disability and illness in the community. Such violence affects the whole community. Medical and hospital treatment for the victims of domestic violence is extremely costly and imposes a considerable strain on the health system and those who work in it’.

  • R v Duncan [2015] NTCCA 2 (9 February 2015) – Court of Criminal Appeal of the Northern Territory
    Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people’ – ‘Alcohol’ – ‘Exceptional circumstances’ – ‘Manifestly inadequate’ – ‘Mitigating factors’ – ‘People living in regional, rural and remote communities’ – ‘Physical violence and harm’ – ‘Rehabilitation’ – ‘Sentencing’ – ‘Unlawfully causing serious harm’ – ‘Victim

    Charge: Unlawfully causing serious harm

    Appeal Type: Crown appeal against sentence

    Facts: The respondent and the victim were in a domestic relationship and had a young daughter. After drinking together near the remote community of Kalkarindji, the respondent and victim got in an argument. The respondent, who was intoxicated, threatened to stab the victim with a pen and subsequently stabbed him in the back with a knife.

    Following an early guilty plea the respondent was sentenced to 18 months imprisonment, suspended immediately. The respondent is an Aboriginal woman who attended school until the end of year 6. She had never been employed and lived with the victim, their child and family. She received parenting payments from Centrelink. The trial judge found the respondent’s remorse was genuine. She waited for emergency services to arrive, made immediate admissions to police and subsequent formal admissions. The respondent continued to look after her young child while living with the victim, who had forgiven her. Finally, the trial judge found she had reasonable to good prospects of rehabilitation having not consumed alcohol since she committed the offence.

    Issues:

    • Whether the sentence imposed was manifestly inadequate.
    • Whether the circumstances of the case were ‘exceptional’ pursuant to section 78DI of the Sentencing Act to displace the minimum mandatory term of 3 months imprisonment.

    Decision and Reasoning: The appeal was allowed and the respondent was resentenced.

    • The sentence imposed on the respondent was manifestly inadequate. The offending was objectively very serious, with the respondent’s violent response to the verbal argument being ‘utterly disproportionate’ ([18]). The Court noted that alcohol-related violent crimes are a great drain on the medical resources of the Northern Territory and are an enormous cost to the community’ ([18]). In light of this and the objective seriousness of the offending, the sentence imposed was ‘so manifestly disproportionate to the seriousness of the offending that it shocks the public conscience ([19]). While the respondent’s subjective circumstances entitled her to considerable leniency, they could not justify a sentence disproportionate to the offending. As such, the sentence was increased to a term of three years imprisonment, to be suspended after six months with an operational period of two years and six months. In determining this sentence, the Court took into account the respondent’s age of 19, her responsibility for her child and other mitigating factors referred to by the trial judge.
    • As the Court upheld the sentence as manifestly inadequate and imposed a sentence that involved actual imprisonment for more than three months, it did not consider whether ‘exceptional circumstances’ for the purposes of section 78DI were present on the facts. However, the Court noted in obiter that what amounts to ‘exceptional circumstances’ will be a matter for the court in considering the facts of each individual case. The Court considered that whether the victim’s wishes with respect to sentencing should be taken into account as exceptional circumstances is for the discretion of the court in each case ([24]).
  • R v Secretary [1996] NTCCA 18 (2 April 1996) – Court of Criminal Appeal of the Northern Territory
    Emotional abuse’ – ‘History of abuse’ – ‘Manslaughter’ – ‘Murder’ – ‘Physical violence and harm’ – ‘Self-defence’ – ‘Substance abuse

    Charge: Murder

    Appeal type: Question of law under s 408(1) Criminal Code (NT)

    Facts: The accused was charged and pleaded not guilty to murdering her husband (the deceased). For eight years leading up to this incident, the deceased had verbally, mentally and physically abused the accused and their children. The violence and abuse increased substantially in the months prior to the killing. During this time, the deceased threatened to kill the accused, beat her with his hands and a belt and sexually assaulted her. The deceased was a chronic drug abuser. On a road trip the accused noticed a rifle in the back of the car. Upon returning home, the deceased threatened to beat the accused with a belt, punched her in the head, throttled her, and made further threats of abuse. Fearing for her life, the accused retrieved the gun and shot the deceased while he was asleep. At trial, the judge ruled that the issue of self-defence should not be left to the jury. Following this, the accused’s counsel made an application that the subject of the ruling be reserved for the consideration of the Court of Criminal Appeal. Subsequently, the accused pleaded not guilty to the charge of murder, but pleaded guilty to the charge of manslaughter by reason of provocation. The indictment was amended accordingly and the jury found the accused guilty of manslaughter. No conviction was recorded; the trial judge postponed judgment until the Court of Appeal returned an answer on the reserved question of law.

    Issue: Whether the trial judge was correct in ruling that self-defence was not open for consideration by the jury in the circumstances of the case.

    Decision and Reasoning: In a 2:1 majority, the question was answered in the negative. The conviction was quashed and a retrial was ordered.

    The defence counsel contended that as the deceased was asleep at the time he was shot, the accused could not have been acting in self-defence. The trial judge had accepted this reasoning: that because the deceased was asleep he had no ability to implement earlier threats. Mildren J of the Northern Territory Court of Criminal Appeal found that self-defence as provided under s 28(f) of the Criminal Code (NT) does not require a temporal connection between the assault and the force used to defend the assault: ‘The lack of any specific requirement for an apprehension of immediate personal violence, so far as the Code definition of assault is concerned, reinforces the view that an assault is a continuing one so long as the threat remains and the factors relevant to the apparent ability to carry out the threat in the sense explained have not changed’ ([16]-[17]). Accordingly, it was open to the jury to find the deceased’s threat was an assault that continued while he was asleep. Having regard to the history of the domestic violence, it could also be inferred that, upon waking, the deceased intended to kill or cause grievous harm to the accused, and he had the ability to do so. It was also open for the jury to consider that the force used was not unnecessary in the circumstances. Mildren J regarded the jury’s verdict as a conviction despite no conviction being formally recorded by the trial judge. Having found the trial judge was incorrect in ruling self-defence was not open, Mildren J quashed the conviction and ordered a re-trial.

    Angel J, agreeing with Mildren J, held that self-defence extends to taking action to defend oneself from threatened assault even if this action is ‘a pre-emptive strike’. It was open to the jury to find the threat of the deceased constituted an assault and this assault continued to exist at the time of the shooting. Therefore, self-defence should have been left to the jury.

    In his dissenting judgement, Martin CJ found the trial judge was correct in his ruling. He considered the word ‘being’ in s 28(f) of the Criminal Code (NT) to require a contemporaneous connection between the assault and the act of self-defence. As the accused was asleep at the time of the shooting, no such connection could exist.