Dr Rodney Syme has challenged Victorian authorities to prosecute him for providing the death drug Nembutal to patients who wish to end their lives: “I just believe passionately that there are too many people suffering too much not to try a little bit harder to change things… And a lot of these things it seems will only be changed in a court decision, so bring it on.” While suicide is legal, it is an offence to incite, aid or abet an attempt to commit suicide. Dr Symes says police and the DPP are turning a blind eye because they do not support the law, but he wants euthanasia legalised and regulated: “Desperate people are doing desperate things, without any effective guidance regarding this medication, dosage or indications.”
A Victorian woman has been acquitted of murder despite hitting her partner with a pick-axe 16 times and burying him in a shallow grave. In its closing address, the prosecution argued, “You can ask yourselves, members of the jury, … was it because she was sick of him and because she could see that there was a nicer life… just along the way[?]” Her defence was that she had suffered years of abuse and was “living in a state of sustained terror”, and that she acted in self-defence. The jury returned a guilty verdict on the alternative charge of defensive homicide, under s 9AD of the Crimes Act 1958 (Vic). This form of manslaughter arises when the accused believes her conduct was necessary to prevent her death or really serious injury, but “she did not have reasonable grounds for the belief”.
A nine-month-old baby in Pakistan has been granted bail on an attempted murder charge. His whole family was charged over an alleged stone-throwing incident. The baby’s grandfather told reporters, “Everyone in the court was saying ‘How can such a small child be implicated in any case’? What kind of police do we have?” Article 40 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child requires governments to establish “a minimum age below which children shall be presumed not to have the capacity to infringe the penal law”. The minimum age of criminal responsibility in Australian jurisdictions is 10 years old, with a rebuttable presumption against responsibility between 10 and 14.
Stephen Charles QC has called for a tougher anti-corruption body in Victoria, complaining that “the legislative definition of ‘corrupt conduct’ is extremely narrow, it does not include misconduct in public office, and the [Independent Broad-based Anti-corruption Commission] needs far greater power to initiate investigation”. He said the government failed to deliver on its election promise to model IBAC on the NSW equivalent, which has uncovered serious corruption. However, others complain that the NSW body is like the notorious Star Chamber; Peter van Onselen says it “can compel people to give evidence, use second-hand hearsay, bug phones at will, ask questions without context, make claims without consequence and deny those interviewed legal representation. It … has greater inquisitorial and discovery powers than any police force… ICAC hearings are akin to legal bullying.” He is concerned that ICAC is “above the very rule of law it is designed to uphold.”
The mother of a 5-year-old boy who died of an infection after cutting his foot in the family’s squalid home has pleaded guilty to recklessly engaging in conduct that placed him in danger of serious injury, contrary to s23 of the Crimes Act 1958 (Vic). Her husband faces the same charges. Photos of the home tendered in the Magistrates’ Court show “rooms filled with shin-high piles of waste and junk and of food, mould and faeces splattered across furniture”. The boy’s birth was not registered, he was not immunised, and his parents did not take him to the doctor. The woman faces a maximum of 5 years imprisonment. While manslaughter by criminal negligence is a crime in Victoria and carries up to 20 years jail, it can be difficult to prove.
The death of Luke Batty has prompted a review of Victoria Police’s procedures for executing warrants, after revelations that his killer should have been arrested for skipping bail. Under the existing system, only the police officer handling the case would be advised if there was a “bench warrant” issued due to the accused’s failure to attend court, and it would not be entered into the police computer for up to two weeks. A temporary change in procedure will cut the delay to four days, while a long-term IT solution is developed.
A fresh trial has been ordered in a Queensland rape case, after the trial judge explained the concept of “beyond reasonable doubt” using an LBW cricket analogy: “if you’re not sure that that ball is really going to hit the stumps or whether there’s some element of doubt about whether the ball pitched in line or not, you have to give the benefit – the umpires have to give the benefit of the doubt to the batsman. And that’s the thing about criminal trials; the benefit of the doubt goes to the defendant.” The Supreme Court of Queensland Court of Appeal held that the analogy was misleading, and that it might have given cricket fans on the jury a disproportionate influence. In Victoria, judges are guided on this point by sections 20 and 21 of the Jury Directions Act 2013, which was passed in response to a VLRC inquiry.
A Supreme Court jury this week acquitted Phillip Bracken of the murder of his partner, accepting his claim that he shot her in self-defence after enduring years of abuse. The prosecution argued that shooting the unarmed woman was a “plainly disproportionate” response to her coming towards him. After days of deliberation, the jury asked Justice Maxwell to clarify the law of self-defence. His Honour explained that the key question was whether the accused had “a belief that what he did was necessary even if he is responding to a harm that is not immediate.” The jury was entitled to take into account the “cumulative effect” of years of emotional and physical violence in deciding the issue.
In Victorian courts, it was common practice (and often a requirement) that prosecutors make submissions about the “acceptable range” of sentences open to the judge—and this recommendation was often the subject of plea bargaining. In Barbaro’s case, the High Court ruled that this practice must stop.