Monday, March 30, 2009

Youth justice procedures in Canada

A Supreme Court of Canada case, abundant in citations of authors and cases, and with 12 counsel appearing, deals with aspects of youth justice: R v SJ L-G [2009] SCC 14 (27 March 2009).

The case establishes that when young persons are jointly charged with adults, young persons are nevertheless tried in the youth court, as there is a statutory separation of trial systems. Whereas the purpose of the adult courts is to emphasise the need for punishment, youth courts favour rehabilitation, reintegration and fair and proportionate accountability.

Further, there is no constitutional right to a preliminary hearing, which is only a screening mechanism. A preliminary hearing is distinct from discovery, and absence of a preliminary hearing does not impair the right to discovery.

The case is largely an exercise in statutory interpretation, so is not of great interest in jurisdictions where legislation differs.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Duties, errors and complaints

For discussion of counsel's duties in relation to defences that have no real prospect of success, see Knowles v Mirzayance [2009] USSC No 07-1315 (24 March 2009).

Points of general interest mentioned here are:

  • There is no requirement that a defence has to be run if all that can be said for it is that there is "nothing to lose" in running it.
  • In alleging deficient representation by counsel, an appellant must show both deficient performance by counsel, and prejudice (ie a reasonable probability that, but for counsel's unprofessional errors, the result of the proceeding would have been different).
  • Deficient performance requires that the appellant show that counsel's representation fell below an objective standard of reasonableness.
  • Counsel's conduct was virtually unchallengeable where he had made a decision on an informed basis after thorough investigation of law and facts relevant to plausible options.
  • There is no prevailing professional norm that counsel must assert the only defence available, even one almost certain to lose.

And another decision of the United States Supreme Court is of general interest for its terminology concerning inappropriate defence tactics: Puckett v United States [2009] USSC No 07-9712 (25 March 2009):

  • Sandbagging: a defendant's conduct in remaining silent about his objection and belatedly raising the error only if the case does not conclude in his favour. Cf. Wainwright v. Sykes, 433 U. S. 72, 89 (1977); see also United States v. Vonn, 535 U. S. 55, 72 (2002).
  • Gaming the system: instead of pointing out an error in a timely way, "wait[ing] to see if the sentence later str[ikes] him as satisfactory," Vonn, 535 U. S., at 73, and then seeking a second bite at the apple by raising the claim.

And a phrase which is probably new to many people: "hornbook law", used here in the sentence "But it is hornbook law that misrepresentation requires an intent at the time of contracting not to perform." The idea is that this is the sort of law that is hallowed.

In Puckett, it was conceded that a plea bargain had been broken by the prosecution, but the Court found that in the circumstances this did not invalidate the plea of guilty and that there was no prejudice to the appellant as it was he would "likely would not have" (as Americans say) obtained the benefits that the parties had agreed to. He was seeking to use his guilty plea as a sign of contrition, but he had subsequently reoffended so the plea could hardly be said to have come from contrition. Plain error review requires, as held in United States v. Olano, 507 U. S. 725 (1993), (1) an error that has not been waived; (2) the error must be clear or obvious, (3) the error must have affected the appellant's substantial rights – usually in that it affected the result of the proceeding; (4) and, if those requirements are met, a remedy may be given if the error has seriously affected the fairness, integrity or public reputation of judicial proceedings.

But to begin with, the error must be complained of at the earliest opportunity:

""anyone familiar with the work of courts understands that errors are a constant in the trial process, that most do not much matter, and that a reflexive inclination by appellate courts to reverse because of unpreserved error would be fatal." United States v. Padilla, 415 F. 3d 211, 224 (CA1 2005) (en banc) (Boudin, C. J., concurring)."

Monday, March 23, 2009

Just leave it to the Crown

The Supreme Court of New Zealand has decided the jury vetting case (see blogs for 14 April 2008 and 29 July 2008): Gordon-Smith v R [2009] NZSC 20 (23 March 2009).

The majority (McGrath J dissenting) upheld the Court of Appeal majority decision:

"22. ... the Crown should disclose any previous convictions of a potential juror known to it, if the previous conviction gives rise to a real risk that the juror might be prejudiced against the accused or in favour of the Crown. Disclosure should not otherwise be made. By this means the interests of accused persons are reconciled with the legitimate privacy and security concerns of jurors. The non-disclosure of a previous conviction which does not give rise to a real risk of prejudice cannot be said to jeopardise the accused's right to a fair trial."

McGrath J's dissent, echoing the position taken by Robertson J in the Court of Appeal, led him to conclude:

"87. ... the Crown has to make disclosure within a reasonable time prior to trial of all information concerning convictions of those on the panel whenever that information is in the Crown's possession and a juror with a prior conviction is not to be challenged by the Crown. The ... Crown must similarly disclose other information it receives from the police which may indicate a juror is possibly biased."

The dissent reasoned that, since the accused's right to a fair trial is absolute (84, citing R v Condon [2007] 1 NZLR 300 (SC), at para 77), and as there is no need to supplement the extensive legislative provisions recently introduced to protect jurors' privacy interests, and as opinions may vary on the significance of previous convictions in relation to potential juror bias (82), and as a well-informed observer would have reasonable grounds for apprehending that a jury may not be impartial when selected in the context of an imbalance of information as between Crown and defence, all information available to the prosecutor should be shared with the defence (86, 87). McGrath J would also have required Crown challenges to be exercised in a principled way in accordance with instructions that would need to be promulgated.

The majority downplayed the risk of unfairness, calling it "entirely speculative" (17). The recent legislation bolstering jurors' privacy interests was taken to be a lead the Court should follow (19), and

"20. With these points in mind we do not consider it is necessary or desirable to go as far as Robertson J and require all information to be made available. That would unreasonably impact on jurors' legitimate concerns for their privacy and security, and for no sufficient reason. ... ."

The majority would not require disclosure of any information other than convictions.

In other words, the Crown can decide when a previous conviction gives rise to a real risk of bias such that the defence would wish to challenge the juror.

Many readers of this decision will be sceptical of the majority judgment. Sarcastic readers (for alas, some there will be) will think the Crown may as well exercise all the defence challenges.

Friday, March 20, 2009

The nastiness of tapering

For a horror story of abuse of power see Takitota v. The Attorney General & Ors (Bahamas) [2009] UKPC 12 (18 March 2009). How do the courts calculate how much money to give a person who has been unlawfully detained for years in inhumane and degrading conditions?

There are two aspects to consider: first, constitutional or vindicatory damages, and second, compensation for loss of liberty.

Exemplary damages are not appropriate where constitutional or vindicatory damages are awarded:

"15. Their Lordships consider that it would not be appropriate to make an award both by way of exemplary damages and for breach of constitutional rights. When the vindicatory function of the latter head of damages has been discharged, with the element of deterrence that a substantial award carries with it, the purpose of exemplary damages has largely been achieved. To make a further award of exemplary damages, as the appellant's counsel sought, would be to introduce duplication ... ."

The fact that constitutional or vindicatory damages are to be awarded should not affect the calculation of the compensatory damages. But, in calculating the amount appropriate for compensation for a lengthy period of unlawful detention (here it was over 8 years), the phenomenon of "tapering" comes into play.

"9. ... it is usual and proper to reduce the level of damages by tapering them when dealing with an extended period of unlawful imprisonment: cf Thompson v Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis [1998] 1 QB 498, 515, per Lord Woolf MR. ... ."

Tapering looks rather odd, but it is an established method of calculation. It is a bit like reducing a sentence for multiple offences on totality grounds to prevent the final sentence being out of proportion to the harm that the offender caused. But I think it is morally dubious. Is a person to receive less compensation because he may have become accustomed to inhumane treatment? Does the law grow weary of his claim? Don't the days become increasingly valuable, as they are each a greater proportion of his remaining life?

Here the Board upheld the amount awarded for constitutional or vindicatory damages, but remitted the question of compensatory damages to the Court of Appeal because that Court's judgment was imprecise and did not enable assessment of the correctness of its mathematics. The haphazard nature of tapering is illustrated where, after calculating compensatory damages on a dollars-per-day basis, the Court of Appeal continued:

"96. In light of the fact that the appellant will be receiving a lump sum [ie $100,000 for constitutional or vindicatory damages] we would reduce the figure for compensatory damages by $330,500.00 and award the sum of $400,000.00 as compensation for the loss of 8 years and two months of the appellant's life. We will not, however, reduce the sum of $100,000.00 by way of exemplary damages since that sum is awarded to show the strong disapproval of the courts for the conduct of the respondents in this case from the time of the appellant's arrest until this case is finally disposed of."

Why chop off $330,500? The Court was wrong to use constitutional damages as the reason for doing this, but how much will it take away as "tapering"? The Privy Council thought the local court better placed to set the amount of compensation, but one wonders.

Equinox sunrise

As promised, here is my effort at explaining why the sun rises in the east for nearly all observers at equinox.

Thursday, March 19, 2009


Three Privy Council decisions:

The inherent jurisdiction of final appellate courts

Bain v R (New Zealand) [2008] UKPC 6 (16 March 2009) at para 6:

"The Privy Council, like other final courts of appeal, has an inherent jurisdiction to discharge or vary its own orders in cases in which this is necessary for the purposes of justice. But the exercise of this jurisdiction will be rare, because finality is generally in the interests of justice. In Taylor v Lawrence [2003] QB 528 the English Court of Appeal discussed the circumstances in which it would exercise the jurisdiction in cases in which it was for practical purposes a final court of appeal because the case was not of sufficient general public importance to justify leave to appeal to the House of Lords. Lord Woolf CJ said (at p.547):

"What will be of the greatest importance is that it should be clearly established that a significant injustice has probably occurred and that there is no alternative effective remedy.""

The significance of absent evidence

In John v The State (Trinidad and Tobago) [2009] UKPC 9 (16 March 2009) there had been no identification parade in circumstances where one should have been held (26). The witness, an accomplice, claimed to have been forced to drive the offender to a Club where a robbery and murder occurred, and then to drive them away. He also claimed to have recognised the appellant as someone he had seen hanging around Queen and Nelson Streets, Port of Spain. This witness, a taxi driver, was, much later, given immunity from prosecution in exchange for evidence identifying the offender. He identified the appellant in the dock at the preliminary hearing.

Immediately after the offending the witness had given the police two facts which led to the appellant's arrest: the nickname "Dollars" by which the other offenders had called the person, and that he picked up the person at Sea Lots and returned him there after the offending.

The Board split 4-1 on whether the absence of an identification parade had caused the trial to be unfair. Baroness Hale dissented; she would have held the trial to have been unfair. She referred (43) to the majority's bootstraps argument: one can't say this was a recognition case, therefore the absence of a parade didn't matter, without assuming that the identification was correct. The majority (judgment delivered by Lord Brown, with brief concurring remarks by Lord Hoffmann at 34 – 36) considered that on the evidence actually given, in the context of the judicial cautions that the jury received, there was no significant possibility of mistaken recognition here (23, 27).

This case is one of a clash of theories about the witness's assertion of the link between the offender and the appellant.

Send out the jury while we discuss threats

Too much information was given to the jury before a chambers discussion of the possibility that an accused had made threats to witnesses in Mitcham v R (Saint Christopher and Nevis) [2008] UKPC 7 (16 March 2009). The court record summarised what had happened (9):

"MR. MERCHANT, DPP rises to state that certain destructing developments have occurred which threaten the orderly conduct of the matter. It relates to threats."

Not to worry, said the Privy Council: this was a fleeting and oblique reference to threats (18); there had been no request to discharge the jury (and discharge would not have been justified), and the point was not taken in the Court of Appeal.

The proper procedure was referred to at 13, with the possible judicial responses mentioned at 14. The Board approved the approach to the decision whether to discharge the jury taken by Auld LJ in R v Lawson [2005] EWCA Crim 84, [2007] 1 Cr App R 20.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

The melancholy fact

The melancholy fact of the existence of dishonest lawyers has led to the need, on occasion, to intercept the private communications between lawyers and their clients. The House of Lords has considered whether a statutory regime had the effect of overriding the client's right to private consultation: In re McE [2009] UKHL 15 (11 March 2009).

The majority (Lord Phillips dissenting) held that as a matter of interpretation the powers of surveillance contained in the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000[UK] ("RIPA") are capable of extending to the private communications between a lawyer and his client.

Baroness Hale referred to the general terms of s 27(1) of RIPA, which make covert surveillance under the Act "lawful for all purposes". She referred to the history of surveillance legislation, which had been introduced after the ECtHR had held that the House of Lords had been wrong in thinking that there was no privacy right attaching to telephone communications: Malone v United Kingdom (1985) 7 EHRR 14. The intention of the legislation is, as Lord Neuberger said at 110, that s 27(1) should be able to impact on Convention rights and on all rights.

The leading opinion was delivered by Lord Carswell, who addressed the two arguments advanced by the appellants. These were that the principle of legality pointed to a construction of RIPA that preserved the right to private consultation with a lawyer, and that the same construction was supported by the maxim generalia specialibus non derogant.

He held that the principle of legality, stated in R v Secretary of State for the Home Department, ex parte Simms [2000] 2 AC 115, did not apply here as it was most unlikely that Parliament had overlooked the possibility that privileged communications might be intercepted (100), and that the maxim did not assist, as there was no surveillance legislation when the private consultation rights were established (101). This latter point looks a little weak, and Lord Neuberger added (115) that the maxim could be applied the other way around from that advanced by the appellants. That too is a bit weak, and the stronger rationale for the majority's interpretation lies in necessity (per Lord Carswell at 102).

Lord Phillips dissented on the basis that if Parliament wishes to permit the interception of privileged communications it can say so expressly (41).

Lord Neuberger referred to "the melancholy fact" (117)

" ... that there are dishonest lawyers, and it is therefore positively consistent with the permissible purpose of RIPA, and indeed with the public interest, that their freedom of action be curtailed, and that their abuse of their clients' rights of privilege and rights to privacy be exposed, and, where appropriate, punished. That applies as much to lawyers with clients in custody as to those with clients at liberty."

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Pressures of work and difficult clients

Just a small note today on an illustration of how some sorts of delay can be attributable to the accused, not to the prosecution: Vermont v Brillon [2009] USSC 9 March 2009.

Here there was a three year delay before trial, two years of which were wrongly attributed by the Vermont Supreme Court to the State. These were caused by multiple changes of assigned counsel (at least six) who had difficulties in continuing to act: Mr Brillon fired one, allegedly threatened another's life, and dismissed another for alleged incompetence (no judicial finding was made on that). Not all the changes in counsel were the fault of Mr Brillon, and for some periods he was without assigned counsel. There was, however, no systemic breakdown of the public defender service.

The United States Supreme Court applied the ad hoc balancing exercise required by Barker v. Wingo, 407 U. S. 514 (1972), and held that the Vermont court had made the error of attributing to the state the failure of several assigned counsel to move the case forward, and had failed adequately to take into account the effect of Mr Brillon's disruptive behaviour.

The difficulty with attributing to the State the delays due to requests by assigned counsel for continuances due to their heavy workloads was (held the US SC) that this would become an avenue by which such counsel could seek dismissal on delay grounds, and the courts would come to treat requests for continuances by assigned counsel with skepticism. Then, assigned counsel would be treated differently from privately instructed counsel.

The US Supreme Court held that there would have been no delay issue here if Mr Brillon had not dismissed his first counsel on the eve of trial, and if he had not acted aggressively to his third counsel. The six month period during which he was without counsel was insufficient to base a delay application. The case was remanded to the Vermont court for further proceedings not inconsistent with the USSC's opinion.

We all occasionally have clients who are demanding out of all proportion to the fee their cases will bring. Many unpaid hours can be devoted to ensuring proper instructions are received and proper advice is given. Is it right to pretend that publicly funded counsel have the same ability to tolerate the inevitable frustrations as privately instructed counsel? A State will often be assiduous to restrict the billable hours of its publicly funded lawyers, and, where these are salaried counsel, to maximise their workloads. The courts should be sensitive to detecting when those policies amount to systemic failure.

Monday, March 09, 2009

Equinox challenge reminder

You, diligent reader of these blogs, will remember the equinox challenge. The point is to practise your advocacy skills by explaining something complex in as simple a way as possible. Simple enough for a jury to understand.

Never mind, for the purposes of this challenge, that a judge would take judicial notice of the matter. Some judges might not.

The task is to explain why the sun rises at equinox due east for all observers (except those few people at or near the poles, who can be ignored for the purposes of this Level One exercise).

Pretend you are briefing an expert witness who will explain this to the jury. Get the witness to avoid technical jargon as much as possible.

Equinox is due soon: 20th March 1144hrs GMT. I will post my answer – which will not necessarily be the best answer – a few hours before the moment of equinox (which will be at 0044hrs on the 21st here in Auckland, as we will still be in summer time).

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Reverse onus and standard of proof

Reverse onus provisions for establishing a defence can conflict with the right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty, as was seen in Hansen v R [2007] NZSC 7 (blogged here 20 February 2007).

That case drew Parliament's attention to s 6(6) Misuse of Drugs Act 1975[NZ], and the words "presumed until the contrary is proved" were held to put the burden of proof to the standard of the balance of probabilities on the accused.

It was not possible, held the Court in Hansen, to interpret this phrase as meaning until the accused raises a reasonable doubt about whether he or she had the proscribed purpose.

No doubt the New Zealand Law Commission, which is currently reviewing the legislation concerning serious drug offending, will be looking around for a way to formulate the statutory defence of absence of purpose of supply without raising a conflict with the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990. That is, assuming that the possession for supply offences remain: an alternative would be to replace them with offences of possession of traffickable quantities of drugs.

Legislation that provides a potentially useful analogy was considered yesterday by the House of Lords in R v G [2009] UKHL 13 (4 March 2009). The offences created by sections 57 and 58 of the Terrorism Act 2000[UK] were analysed here, with reference to how the defences in s 118 applied to them.

The offences involve possession, so there is an interesting discussion of what possession is in this context: see paras 46 – 48, 50, 53, and 60 – 62. In particular, the ingredient of knowledge of the nature of the information in one's possession, for the s 58 offence, was held to be akin to that required in the famous old case Sweet v Parsley [1970] AC 132 (HL).

Sections 57(2) and 58(3) of the Terrorism Act 2000[UK] create defences if the person charged proves certain things. For what "proves" means, reference must be made to s 118(2):

"If the person adduces evidence which is sufficient to raise an issue with respect to the matter the court or jury shall assume that the defence is satisfied unless the prosecution proves beyond reasonable doubt that it is not."

And s 118(4):

"(4) If evidence is adduced which is sufficient to raise an issue with respect to the matter mentioned in subsection (3)(a) or (b) the court shall treat it as proved unless the prosecution disproves it beyond a reasonable doubt."

This is statutory recognition of the idea that the raising of an issue can amount to proof. The evidential burden is treated as a legal burden. In Hansen the Supreme Court held that "proves" cannot mean "raises a reasonable doubt", for reasons too mysterious to discern. Actually, that’s a bit dismissive. The Court held that this meaning was not available because of Parliament’s intent in 1975, because of there being only two recognised standards of proof, because raising an issue is just testing the proposition, not proving anything, and because the expression “the contrary” in the phrase “until the contrary is proved” indicates that more than merely testing the proposition is required. In effect the Court was not prepared to revise the statute by reading in a provision like s 118, above.

Monday, March 02, 2009

Watching the river flow

Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow,

Creeps in this petty pace from day to day ...

Unaccountable official delay in determining the appeal occurred in Elaheebocus v The State of Mauritius (Mauritius) [2009] UKPC 5 (25 February 2009). The case was not complex, and none of the delay was attributable to the appellant. The Supreme Court took 19 months between hearing the appeal and dismissing it. The judgment that was eventually delivered was brief, and the Privy Council noted (13) that the appeal had been hopeless and it could have been dealt with ex tempore. This 19 month delay (which was followed by a further 17 month delay before the Supreme Court refused the appellant's application for leave to appeal to the Privy Council) amounted to a breach of the constitutional guarantee of a hearing within a reasonable time.

A symbolic remedy was required. The Board was plainly tempted to simply hold that its decision finding a breach would be sufficient, but on balance it decided to make a modest reduction in the sentence: four years' imprisonment was reduced by six months.

The appellant had been on bail since before his trial, and naturally enough – as his case was apparently hopeless [Macbeth again: " ... full of sound and fury, signifying nothing"] – he had done nothing to hurry things along, such as asking when he might hear the result of his appeal (20); but he was not at fault for that: the delay was a matter of constitutional significance for which the authorities were responsible.

In addressing delay the Board applied the approach in Boolell v The State (Mauritius) [2006] UKPC 46 (blogged here 18 October 2006): three questions must be asked: is the case complex, has the defendant contributed to the delay, and has there been delay by the authorities?

Some of the delay in the present case didn't count because it occurred to accommodate the appellant's counsel's commitments: this was a three year period between the trial and the appeal to the Supreme Court.