Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Dangerous indifference

Recklessness as to whether a complainant is consenting to sexual activity is not the same as recklessness as to why the complainant isn't consenting. The latter is not an element of the offence, whereas the former is, for offences defined in statutory provisions the same as or similar to those considered in Gillard v The Queen [2014] HCA 16 (14 May 2014).

Broadly, the legislation defined sexual offences that are committed in the absence of consent, and specified occasions where consent is deemed not to have existed, for example where consent has been caused by abuse by the defendant of authority over the complainant. Knowledge of the complainant's non-consent is sufficient for liability, as is recklessness as to whether the complainant consents.

In this context the High Court held that recklessness means indifference to the complainant's consent (applying Banditt v The Queen [2005] HCA 80). Here, indifference to whether the complainant consented was not to be equated to indifference as to whether an exercise of authority over the complainant may have caused a consent which the statute deemed not to be consent. Of course the existence of such authority could be evidence of the defendant's indifference as to whether the complainant consented, but that would depend on the circumstances.

Here the prosecutor, with the judge's apparent approval, had invited the jury to conclude that the defendant was reckless as to consent because he was reckless as to the cause of any apparent consent. That was incorrect reasoning and a new trial on the relevant counts was ordered.

Indifference here is not simply an emotional attitude. It is a state of mind warranting criminal liability when it causes harm. It is not merely being rash or lacking caution (see my comment on Banditt here on 24 January 2006, referring to Lord Bingham's dictum in R v G). It is a determination to have one's way regardless of the other person's wishes.