This decision relates to a trial by judge alone before Hall J. The accused was charged with murder, and prior to the trial, admitted that he had unlawfully killed the victim. However, the defence argued that intent could not be proved beyond reasonable doubt (‘having regard to all the circumstances, including the intoxicated state of the accused’), and that therefore the accused could only be found guilty of a lesser offence ().
During the trial, Hall J was required to determine whether the defence’s expert psychiatric evidence was admissible. This issue arose because the expert opinion was partially based on information which was not supported by sworn evidence. The issue is set out at -:
‘The accused elected not to give evidence. That was his right and no adverse inference can be drawn from that fact. However he did call expert evidence from Dr Victoria Pascu, a forensic psychiatrist.
Dr Pascu interviewed the accused at Hakea Prison and relied on information provided by him for the purpose of forming her conclusions. Some of the information provided by the accused reflected evidence that was otherwise available. However, the accused also provided Dr Pascu with some information, including in regard to his drug and alcohol usage generally and on the night in question, that was either not supported by the evidence or was inconsistent with it. This created an issue as to the extent to which Dr Pascu’s opinions were based upon information that was not supported by sworn evidence. An objection by the prosecution was taken to Dr Pascu’s evidence on this basis.’ (emphasis added)
In essence, the accused’s choice not to give evidence meant that he did not confirm on oath what he had said to Dr Pascu. This meant that some of the foundation of Dr Pascu’s opinion was not supported by any admissible evidence at trial, in that what the accused said to Dr Pascu was hearsay.
During the trial, Hall J decided that the evidence could be led, subject to any findings about weight, because Dr Pascu confirmed that it would be possible for her ‘to exclude the information that had been provided by the accused and to only rely upon the evidence before the court, including the accused’s interview with the police’ ().
Justice Hall provided detailed reasons for his decision in the judgment, concluding that:
‘In this case prior to Dr Pascu being called she was asked whether it would be possible for her to put aside the information that was provided to her by the accused and whether she would still be able to give an opinion as to [the fact in issue]. She advised that she could do this. In these circumstances I concluded that Dr Pascu’s evidence would not be based entirely on inadmissible material and that insofar as she had partly relied upon any information from the accused which had not been confirmed on oath then that would reduce the weight to be accorded to her opinion.’ ()
As the opinion did not wholly rely on hearsay, it was still admissible. The extent of reliance on inadmissible hearsay ‘was able to be explored in cross‑examination and is relevant to the weight to be given to her opinion’ ().
This decision is of interest for the practical application of the (sometimes unclear) ‘factual foundation’ or ‘factual basis’ rule – even the nature of which is still subject to some disagreement, as some regard it as a formal rule for admissibility and others regard it as more of a practical requirement in that an opinion without an admissible factual basis cannot be of any weight. The common law authorities relating to this rule are contradictory, so Hall J’s discussion of the principle is helpful to understand which authorities are to be preferred.
In this regard, his Honour cites at  (inter alia, and apparently with some approval) the following passage from Ipp J’s judgment in Pownall v Conlan Management Pty Ltd (1995) 12 WAR 370:
‘[E]xpert opinion based entirely on inadmissible evidence is itself inadmissible and there is no discretion to admit it. I form this view as to admit such an opinion would be to admit, indirectly, the inadmissible evidence itself. If an opinion, based solely on evidence that the court by law is required to exclude, is itself admitted, the inadmissible evidence would have some influence over the court’s decision. Such a result would defeat the purpose of the law that excludes the inadmissible evidence. If the primary facts on which the evidence is based are not admissible, the opinion is valueless and irrelevant and, in my opinion, should be excluded... It is only when the primary facts upon which the opinion has been based are established that the opinion should be admitted into evidence.
On the other hand, where the expert opinion is based only partly on inadmissible testimony and that inadmissible testimony can readily be ascertained and discarded, the opinion should be admitted subject to weight.’ (emphasis added)
The judgment was delivered on 11 December 2020 and can be accessed here. See especially paragraphs – for discussion relating to admissibility of the evidence.
Though this High Court decision concerns an appeal from Queensland, it is relevant to the law in all Australian jurisdictions. The relevant background to this case is summarised in the first two paragraphs of the unanimous judgment by Kiefel CJ, Bell, Keane, Gordon and Edelman JJ:
‘The appellant appeals by grant of special leave from the orders of the Court of Appeal of the Supreme Court of Queensland (Morrison and Philippides JJA and Boddice J) dismissing an appeal against his convictions for six sexual offences. All the offences were alleged to have been committed against the appellant’s half-sister. The prosecution case was wholly dependent upon acceptance of her evidence. The appellant did not give or call evidence. In the course of his charge, Judge Wall QC instructed the jury to:
“bear in mind that [the complainant] gave evidence and there is no evidence, no sworn evidence, by the defendant to the contrary of her account. That may make it easier” …
The appellant challenged his convictions in the Court of Appeal contending that, in effect, the impugned statement was a direction that the absence of evidence from him might make it easier to return verdicts of guilty. The Court of Appeal acknowledged that the impugned statement should not have been made. Nonetheless, the Court of Appeal found there was no real possibility that the jury may have misunderstood earlier, correct directions of law that had been given, and no real possibility that the appellant had been deprived of a real chance of acquittal. Their Honours held that the impugned statement had not occasioned a miscarriage of justice. This holding took into account the fact that neither the prosecutor nor defence counsel had applied for any redirection arising from the making of the impugned statement.‘
In the High Court, the appellant challenged the Court of Appeal’s decision that the impugned statement did not occasion a miscarriage of justice. The appellant argued that it ‘invited the jury to reason to his guilt from his exercise of the right to silence’ and that the Court of Appeal was ‘bound to allow the appeal unless the prosecution established that no substantial miscarriage of justice had actually occurred’ ().
Ultimately the High Court accepted the appellant’s submissions, allowed the appeal, and ordered a retrial.
The High Court found that the present case could not be distinguished from Azzopardi, in which it was stated:
‘It is to be emphasised that cases in which a judge may comment on the failure of an accused to offer an explanation will be both rare and exceptional … A comment will never be warranted merely because the accused has failed to contradict some aspect of the prosecution case.‘ ( of Azzopardi, reproduced at  of GBF)
On this basis, the High Court decided that the comment’s ‘effect was to invite the jury to engage in the same false process of reasoning as the impugned passage did in Azzopardi. The Court of Appeal was wrong to hold that this was not an irregularity amounting to a miscarriage of justice’ ().
This decision adds to the the body of case law which confirms that Weissensteiner-type comments are appropriate only in rare and exceptional circumstances. It also reinforces protection of an accused person’s right to silence, indicating that any improper interference with that right at trial is likely to be characterised as a miscarriage of justice.
The judgment and further discussion:
The judgment was delivered on 4 November 2020 and can be accessed here.
For further discussion of this case, listen to ABC’s Law Report podcast from 24 November 2020 from 13 minutes and 10 seconds onwards (accessible here).
This appeal concerns a murder which has received much attention from the media in Western Australia. The background to this case is neatly summarised by Quinlan CJ and Mitchell JA:
‘Sometime between 26 June 2016 and 2 July 2016, Annabelle Chen (the deceased) was murdered in her bedroom in the house in which she resided in Mosman Park (the Mosman Park house). Her body was found by fishermen in a suitcase in the Swan River on the morning of 2 July 2016. The deceased was not identified until her daughter, Tiffany Yiting Wan (Ms Wan), reported the deceased as a missing person on 1 September 2016.
The appellant, who was the deceased’s former husband, and Ms Wan were subsequently charged with murdering the deceased.
At trial, both accused gave evidence and ran a ‘cut-throat’ defence. Each alleged that the other had killed the deceased without his or her involvement. At the conclusion of the trial, the jury found the appellant guilty of murder and Ms Wan guilty of being an accessory after the fact to murder.’ (-)
The appellant argued several grounds of appeal, including that the trial judge was obliged to, but did not, give directions which would obviate a perceptible risk that the jury may reason that if it acquitted one accused of unlawfully killing the deceased, it must convict the other accused for doing so. That is, the trial judge failed to adequately direct the jury that it was open to them to find both accused not guilty of the unlawful killing.
Ultimately Quinlan CJ and Mitchell JA (in a joint judgment) found that the ground was not established and dismissed the appeal. In dissent, Mazza JA would have allowed the appeal on this ground.
The majority summarised the appellant’s submission on this ground as follows:
‘The appellant complains that the trial judge essentially left the case to the jury as one of ‘whodunit’. The appellant submits that the irresistible suggestion from his Honour’s directions, when viewed as a whole, was that at least one of the two accused killed the deceased. The appellant says that the trial judge failed to adequately direct the jury that, if they were not satisfied of the guilt of either accused (when looking at the State’s evidence in the individual case against each), then they could find both not guilty of the unlawful killing of the deceased. The appellant submits that this was a failure in the summing-up that was not fair to him.’ ()
They continued to say that ‘The concern reflected in this ground of appeal is that the jury might… having concluded that Ms Wan was not guilty of murder, [have] reasoned that the appellant must therefore be found guilty. If there was a real and not remote possibility that the jury might reason in that way, a direction of the kind contemplated by this ground would have been required.’ ()
However, the majority found that when considered as a whole, the trial judge’s direction did instruct the jury that they could only convict the appellant of manslaughter or murder if the admissible evidence against him satisfied them, beyond reasonable doubt, that he had in fact unlawfully killed the deceased. Their Honours found that the trial judge did expressly direct the jury that they must acquit the appellant if they were not so satisfied, and that this was emphasised by the question trail document provided to the jury (-). Therefore, a reasonable jury following the directions and the question trail document would not have reasoned that they could not acquit both Ms Wan and Mr Ban ().
In dissent, Mazza JA found that:
‘… [the trial judge did not tell the jury] that it was open to it to deliver verdicts of not guilty in respect of both accused. This may not have been apparent to the jury, particularly when the paramount factual issue for the jury to consider was framed as ‘whodunit?’ or ‘who did it?’. In the context of the present case, where there were only two suspects, at least one of whom unlawfully killed Ms Chen, the framing of the case in this way, to my mind, implied, or at least may reasonably have been understood as implying, that someone was guilty. It brings with it the perceptible risk of the jury reasoning, impermissibly, to guilt by a process of elimination that proceeds in this way: if we are not satisfied beyond reasonable doubt that one accused killed Ms Chen, it follows we must be satisfied beyond reasonable doubt that the other accused killed Ms Chen.’ ()
His Honour also noted that the trial judge’s expression of the issue as ‘whodunit’ gave rise to a perceptible risk that ‘the jury may have understood that it could impermissibly reason to guilt by weighing up which of the accused’s versions they preferred’ (). Further, because of the ‘cut-throat’ defence cases and ‘the understandable desire to bring somebody to justice for the unlawful killing of Ms Chen’ there was a perceptible risk that a jury may think it inconsistent to acquit both accused ().
The judgment was delivered on 15 June 2020. You can access it here. See especially paragraphs - and -.
The appellant was convicted of importing tobacco products with the intention of defrauding the revenue, contrary to the Customs Act 1901 (Cth). The appellant was jointly tried with a co-accused (Mr Hussain) who was acquitted. The appellant argued several grounds of appeal, including that the trial judge erred by permitting Mr Hussain to give hearsay evidence which was prejudicial to the appellant’s case, and by failing to direct the jury about the limited purpose for which the evidence could be used. Ultimately the Court of Appeal refused leave to appeal on this ground but a majority allowed the appeal on another ground and accordingly ordered the conviction be set aside and a new trial take place.
Further Background & Reasons:
The relevant evidence was Mr Hussain’s response to questions in examination in chief relating to why his ABN was used for the transaction declaration. The co-accused said that ‘In this case, me, Danial and [the appellant] is involved. So Danial is not living in Australia, did not have any business number. [The appellant], he just clearly told Danial that he doesn’t want to involve his self in the – in this case. So he didn’t want his name, he didn’t want his ABN number’. In response to a follow-up question, he continued ‘And at that time I said, “okay. Maybe he don’t want so I can do.” But I don’t mind it because Danial told me it’s only naswar, not tobacco molasses, there’s nothing else.’
The trial judge allowed this evidence to be given after an objection by the appellant’s trial counsel, her Honour noting that she could provide the jury with a warning that they could only use the evidence to go to the co-accused’s knowledge and intent, not for its truth. The trial judge ultimately gave no such warning.
Mitchell JA (with whom Buss P and Mazza JA agreed on this ground) found that none of the appellant’s submissions in relation to the hearsay evidence had any merit.
First, it was not inadmissible hearsay. The out of court assertions were relevant for a purpose other than their truth: ‘Mr Hussain’s evidence as to his understanding tended to negate the inference, which might otherwise be drawn from the prosecution evidence, that he knew that tobacco products were being imported and that he intended to defraud the revenue. The evidence was admissible for the purpose of establishing Mr Hussain’s understanding of the position when he provided his ABN to Seabridge. The evidence was therefore relevant as going to Mr Hussain’s state of mind, and its use for that purpose did not infringe the hearsay rule’ ().
Second, given that the trial judge could direct the jury about the permitted use of the evidence if required, ‘there was no basis for her Honour to have excluded the evidence on the ground that its probative value in the case against Mr Hussain was outweighed by its capacity to lead the jury to reason incorrectly to a conclusion as to the appellant’s guilt’ ().
Third, though the trial judge did not ultimately provide the jury with any direction about the permissible use of the evidence, it was not required because of the way in which the evidence emerged and with an appreciation of the whole conduct of the trial (). There was ‘no real risk that the jury would use Mr Hussain’s answer as evidence of what the appellant had said to Danial. No-one suggested to them that this was the effect of the evidence, and the evidence was not given in those terms’ ().
This case provides a good reminder that although the trial judge’s capacity to give directions may factor into decisions about the admission (or non-exclusion) of evidence, ultimately those directions may not be required when regard is later had to the entirety of the trial.
The judgment was delivered on 15 May 2020. You can access it here. See especially the paragraphs cited above.
The appellant was convicted of two counts of indecent dealing against children. The appellant appealed on several bases, including matters relating to recent complaint and propensity evidence. The appellant argued that the trial judge erred by permitting use of the complaint evidence as ‘recent complaints’, by admitting prior convictions as propensity evidence, and by improperly directing the jury about the prior convictions. The Court of Appeal found that the trial judge erred in directing the jury about how they could use the propensity evidence and consequently allowed the appeal. In a joint judgment, Buss P and Mitchell JA decided that no other ground of appeal was established. In a separate judgment, Derrick J regarded the propensity evidence as inadmissible at trial.
In relation to the complaint evidence, Buss P and Mitchell JA found that it was not improperly received in the circumstances given that at trial the appellant’s counsel made a tactical decision not to object to it (-). Their honours also found that the trial judge’s direction was appropriate as it ‘did no more than indicate the jury could consider the complaint evidence in determining the consistency, the believability and the credibility of the complainants… the jury would not have understood the trial judge to be inviting them to regard the complainants’ response to, and complaints in relation to, the alleged assaults as supporting the prosecution case’ ().
The propensity evidence matter concerned the appellant’s previous convictions for ‘using electronic communication with intent to procure a person he believed to be under the age of 16 years to engage in sexual activity’ (). Applying Evidence Act 1906 (WA) s 31A, Buss P and Mitchell JA found that the prior convictions were admissible because they ‘did have significant probative value as to the issue of whether any touching that did occur was deliberate and sexually motivated (so as to be indecent)’ (). Their honours clarified that the touching itself would have to be independently established by other evidence (). Through a process of analysing the similarities and distinguishing features between the prior convictions and the counts at trial, their honours found that the prior convictions could not be significantly probative in respect of establishing that the appellant did in fact touch the complainants as alleged (). Their honours set out that ‘Because the propensity evidence was admissible for a limited purpose, it was incumbent on the trial judge to direct the jury on the permissible limits of the use of the evidence’ (). At trial there was no such direction, and this gave rise to a miscarriage of justice (). The State did not assert that the ‘proviso’ applied, and as such Buss P and Mitchell JA allowed the appeal, set aside the convictions and ordered a new trial.
In a separate judgment, Derrick J found that the prior convictions should not have been admitted at all. His honour regarded the elements of deliberateness and indecency as separate from one another, and whilst the prior convictions could have been admissible to prove indecency, he did not regard indecency as a fact in issue at trial (-, -). Derrick J therefore also found that the appeal should be allowed, that the proviso should not be invoked, and that the convictions should be set aside and a new trial ordered.
The difference in conclusion between the majority and Derrick J on the admissibility of the propensity evidence highlights the importance of first identifying the fact in issue that the evidence is said to be significantly probative of. Though not strictly a matter of evidence law, this in turn demonstrates the importance of precisely understanding the nature of each element to be proved.
The judgment was delivered on 29 May 2020. You can access it here. See especially the paragraphs cited above.
The appellant was convicted of three offences at trial. The appellant appealed on the basis that the trial judge misdirected the jury in relation to the appellant’s alleged lie that he had not been into a particular room. The appellant argued that the lie was not capable of being allocated to any particular charge as an implied admission of guilt (an ‘Edwards lie’) and should have been left to the jury as a lie that was only capable of affecting the appellant’s credit. The Court of Appeal found that the trial judge did not misdirect the jury and therefore dismissed the appeal.
In a joint judgment, Mazza and Beech JJA identified that an ‘element of the appellant’s submission is that, unless the lie could be connected to a particular offence and shown to amount to an admission of the guilt of that offence, there was no room for using the lie as an implied admission of anything’ (). Their honours restated the principle that a ‘lie need not reveal knowledge of the whole of an offence’, and that ‘it is sufficient if it reveals knowledge of some aspect of it, including some circumstance or event connected with it’ (). Applying that principle to the present case, their honours found that ‘the appellant’s lie as to whether he had been in the room was probative, as part of a circumstantial case, of whether he had knowledge of the safe and its contents… Whether the appellant had such knowledge was material to whether he had the necessary knowledge to establish his possession of each of the methylamphetamine, the sum of cash and the firearm’ (). The lie was therefore capable of being probative in relation to each of the three offences, and whether it was to be taken as an implied admission of guilt in relation to each offence was a matter for the jury to decide (). Their honours found that the trial judge’s directions to the jury were adequate in the circumstances.
Buss P’s judgment is to similar effect, noting that ‘it was plainly open to the jury to be satisfied that the appellant’s alleged lie constituted a denial by the appellant of ever having been in the master bedroom; that the alleged lie was a deliberate lie told out of a consciousness of guilt to conceal the appellant’s knowledge of and involvement with the contents of the safe; and that the alleged lie was probative of the appellant’s knowledge, and sole or non‑exclusive possession, of all of the drugs, the cash and the revolver in the safe’ (). Therefore it was not a lie that was only capable of going to credit – it was capable of ‘constituting an implied admission against interest in relation to all of the illicit items in the safe’ ().
This case is of interest in identifying the outer limits of lies that are capable of being taken as implied admissions of guilt. Taken with previous authorities, this case is useful to establish the nature and degree of connection required between the lie and the event.
The judgment was delivered on 27 May 2020. You can access it here. See especially paragraphs - (Buss P); - (Mazza and Beech JJA).
The appellant was convicted of murder at trial. The appellant appealed on the basis that the trial judge erred in his application of the res gestae rule by excluding statements made by the appellant in an emergency services phone call which took place some minutes following the occurrence. The appellant argued that the excluded statements supported his claim of self-defence. The Court of Appeal found that the trial judge did not err and therefore dismissed the appeal.
In a joint judgment, Buss P and Mazza JA set out seven reasons why the statements were not admissible as part of the res gestae. Of particular interest is that the statements were not uttered with approximate contemporaneity to the relevant occurrence – their honours noting the passage of time and movement of space between the occurrence and the statements (-). Their honours also reasoned that the possibility of concoction or distortion could not be disregarded because the appellant had a motive to concoct or distort and ‘a real opportunity, despite his intoxication and agitation, to collect his thoughts and reflect on what he had said and done before he made the relevant statements’ ().
Similarly, Mitchell JA noted that the context indicated a ‘real prospect that the appellant concocted or distorted his account of the altercation with the deceased to his own advantage’ (. His honour also found it relevant that the statements were not made spontaneously, but in response to a question asked by the emergency line operator ().
The outcome of this case is unsurprising and a relatively straightforward application of the principles from R v Andrews  AC 281, Adelaide Chemical and Fertilizer Co Ltd v Carlyle (1940) 64 CLR 514, and other leading authorities on res gestae. Nonetheless, this case is an interesting application of those principles to a case where the utterance was made not by the victim, but by the person standing trial.
The judgment was delivered on 28 May 2020. You can access it here. See especially paragraphs - (Buss P and Mazza JA); - (Mitchell JA).