Thursday, November 24, 2005

Bain, again

Supporters of David Bain will, no doubt, be studying Mallard v R [2005] HCA 68 (15 November 2005). Both started as petitions for the exercise of the Royal prerogative. Just as in R v Bain [2004] 1 NZLR 638, (2003) 20 CRNZ 637 (CA), this was a reference to the court of the question of the conviction of the petitioner, although, in Mallard, the proceedings reached the High Court of Australia on appeal from the determination of the reference by the Court of Criminal Appeal of Western Australia. The equivalent New Zealand provision is s 406 of the Crimes Act 1961. In Bain, the Court of Appeal noted, para 4, that

"A reference under s 406(a) has the effect of an appeal against the convictions so referred. Hence this Court must consider the matters arising as if David Bain was appealing against his convictions a second time."

In Mallard, the corresponding provision was described, at para 6, in the following terms:

"The significance of this history for present purposes, is that the exercise for which s 140(1)(a) of the Sentencing Act 1995 [WA] provides is effectively both a substitute for, and an alternative to, the invocation, and the exercise of the Crown prerogative, an exercise in practice necessarily undertaken by officials and members of the Executive, unconfined by any rules or laws of evidence, procedure, and appellate conventions and restrictions. That history, briefly stated, argues in favour of an approach by a court on a reference of a petition by the Attorney-General to it, of a full review of all the admissible relevant evidence available in the case, whether new, fresh or already considered in earlier proceedings, however described, except to the extent if any, that the relevant Part of the Act may otherwise require."

A significant point concerning the approach of the appellate court in these circumstances (where fresh evidence is relied on by the petitioner) was made in Mallard. This is that it is wrong for the appellate court to view the evidence in a way that is constrained by the verdict that had been reached at trial. At para 10 of Mallard the Court criticised the approach taken by the CCA (WA) whereby limitations were perceived on the court’s jurisdiction to consider the evidence. Instead, the HCA held that the reference of "the whole case" to the appellate court carried no such limitations, and

"…The inhibitory purpose and effect of the words "as if it were an appeal" are merely to confine the Court to the making of orders, and the following of procedures apposite to an appeal, and further, and perhaps most relevantly, to require the Court to consider whether the overall strength of the prosecution case requires the Court to apply the proviso …".

The corresponding New Zealand provision does not use the phrase "the whole case", but it is clear that the meaning is intended to be the same. It refers to "the question of the conviction", and, as with the Western Australian provision, it contrasts that with reference of "any point arising in the case".

It seems fair to say, therefore, that on reference of the conviction, the Court of Appeal should not feel constrained in its view of the facts by the jury’s decision. It is wrong, on this view, to say that because the jury must have accepted certain evidence, that that evidence carries enhanced status for the purposes of determining the reference.

Another indication of the correct approach, stated in Mallard at para 23, is

"It was not for the Court of Criminal Appeal to seek out possibilities, obvious or otherwise, to explain away troublesome inconsistencies which an accused has been denied an opportunity to explore and exploit forensically."

In a separate, concurring, judgment, Kirby J held, para 84, that in a fresh evidence case, the question was whether absence of that evidence

"… could have seriously undermined the effective presentation of the defence case, [as] a verdict reached in the absence of the material evidence (and the use that the defence might have made of it) cannot stand."

Mallard also contains a useful review of the prosecution’s duty of disclosure of evidence to the defence.

In the light of Mallard, the need to reconsider Bain is clear.

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