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Overview of Search Process

Question:

Discuss About The Procedural Fairness Majority Jury Verdicts?

This research task is based on the analysis of prescribed case of Smith v The Queen[1]. As this is an Australian based criminal law case, its jurisdiction was Queensland, where this case was initiated. The area of law is business law, particularly the Jury Act of Queensland[2]. The only limitation of this research is that it restricts the sources which can be researched upon for conducting the research, as the full ruling of the cases are not available at a number of places.

Concept

Search terms

Alternative/related terms

Connect search terms together

Procedural fairness

Fairness in court procedure; fair procedure; court

procedure being unfair; limitations to fairness

Jury pool, fairness of decision

Jury verdict

Unanimous decision; uncertain decision

Majority verdict; jury pool decision

Jury decision through guidance

Database or other resource used

Overview of search process (methodology, search terms etc)

Overview of results

Looseleaf commentary

In using the Carter’s Criminal Law of Queensland the key was to look for Jury Act, which provided the details on jury process. The search terms included the quoted sections of the act in the prescribed case.

This source helped in getting clarity on the provisions of Jury Act, particularly section 59A.

Scholarly journal article

The journal by Thomas Hurley was the only journal I could find where the selected case had been discussed. I made used of LawCite and Google Scholar to search for a journal on this case. I used different citations of this case to search for this case

After a lot of time and efforts being spent, I found this journal and used it for reading on the case.

Website resource

Austlii and Jade were the most helpful sources for me as these were easily accessible by putting the case name on Google search. Further, this source allowed me to get full ruling of this case, to read the case thoroughly.

The result of this was that I got to read the full reading of the case; and the approach adopted by the judges became clear to me.

AGLC footnote reference

Brief evaluation of the source

Source 1: Looseleaf commentary service paragraph

M. J. Shanahan, S. M Ryan, A. J. Rafter, J. J. Costanzo, and A. Hoare, Carter's Criminal Law of Queensland (21st ed, LexisNexis Butterworths, 2016)

As this source had been suggested by the tutors, I used this for searching the Jury Act. This book is helpful in understanding the criminal law of Queensland.

Source 2:
Scholarly journal article

Thomas Harley, ‘Thomas Hurley case notes’ (2015) 42(9) Brief 47.

This source provides case notes of different cases. It allows for the case to be easily understood and helps in understanding the base of such case.

Source 3:
Website resource

Austlii, Smith v The Queen [2015] HCA 27 (5 August 2015) <https://www6.austlii.edu.au/cgi-bin/viewdoc/au/cases/cth/HCA/2015/27.html#fnB33>

This is the most useful case and the most easily accessible one also. It provides details on different case laws and legislations.

This case, even though is a new one, but offers a major precedent. It has been cited in 23 different cases till now. This shows that in the span of three years, this ruling has been given a lot of significance in the matter of procedural fairness when it comes to the jury verdict

I loved working on this research task, as I got an understanding on how the rulings have to be deciphered and have to be properly read. This was a small ruling so I could go through it easily,, without getting bored. However, a problem which I discovered and which acts as a possible key area for improvement for me is finding relevant journals on case laws. I had the most difficulty in researching for that, and would try to improve this aspect.

In this case, the appellant had been criminally tried in the Queensland District Court on one count of rape. After the jury had retired for some time, they informed that trial judge of their inability in reaching any verdict. This is the reason why the jury had been asked to continue with the deliberations. Once they had undertaken more discussion and had clarified on the legal issues, for instance the management of the term “beyond reasonable doubt”, there was an inability on part of the jury in reaching the unanimous verdict. This was informed to the judge of the case by way of a note. This also covered the details on the interim votes of the jury and on their voting patterns. Once the trial judge read this, he informed the counsel that there was an inability of the jury in reaching a consensus. The trial judge also informed the counsel bthat he had no intentions of publishing the interim voting patterns of the jury as they had not been in total agreement. At that time, no objections had been made by the lawyers[4].

Once the jury had deliberated for eight hours, the counsel was informed by the trial judge regarding his intent of questioning the jury on whether they thought that they would be able to reach a majority verdict. This was based on the Jury Act, 1995 (QLD), where the trial judges are allowed to ask the jury to reach a majority vote where they have not reached a unanimous verdict after eight hours. This was agreed to by the jury. No application was made by the counsel of any side, for the jury to be discharged at this point of time. This led to the appellant being found guilty by 11:1 majority vote. It was alleged by the appellant that the precise interim voting pattern of the jury should have been disclosed by the trial judge. This led to an appeal being made by Smith in the High Court. This was done on the basis that he had been denied a fair trial as per the law as the interim voting patterns of the jury had been withheld from the counsel[5].

Database or Other Resource Used

The matter began in the District Court of Queensland in 2014, where the matter was presented before a single judge, i.e., the trial judge. He had disclosed two of the notes, but chose not to disclose the third note. After the material facts highlighted above were undertaken, the verdict was reached by the jury, where they voted for the appellant being guilty by 11:1[6].

On this decision, an appeal was made against this conviction in the Court of Appeal of the Supreme Court of Queensland. There, the appellant contended that he had been denied the procedural fairness when the trial judge did not disclose the exact contents of the third note of the jury. It was argued by the appellant that the interim voting pattern of thee jury had been relevant to the discretion of the trial judge in allowing the majority verdict or to discharge the jury; and this was required to be disclosed to the counsel. This appeal was dismissed by the Court of Appeal and they held that the voting information which had been provide to the trial judge, had neither been capable nor been relevant in influencing the exercising of discretion by the judge, when they allowed for a majority verdict[7].

From this decision, an appeal was made by the appellant, through the grant of special leave, to the High court[8].

The matter in this case which had to be decided and which also formed as a grounds of appeal was the denial of procedural fairness. The court considered this case on the following issues:

  • Whether the disclosure of the interim votes and the voting patterns of the jury were required for proper performance of the functions of jury? In other words, whether it was required for determining the guilt had been established beyond reasonable doubt?
  • The next issue was whether the appellant had been given a fair trial as per the law after the point where the jury had retired for considering the verdict?
  • Whether there was any relevance of the interim votes of the jury to the issue which was presented before the court?
  • What was the capacity held by such disclosure on influencing the exercise of discretion by the trial judge regarding the dismissal of jury, or in allowing the majority verdict[9]?

In order to understand why the jury had deliberated for over eight hours, reference had to be made to the Jury Act, 1995 governing the juries in Queensland. When it comes to certain categories of criminal trials, section 59A(2) of this act allows the trial judge to ask the jury to get to a majority verdict where even after the prescribed period, the judge get satisfied that, the jury would not be able to reach to a unanimous decision after undertaking further deliberation[10]. This act provides that a majority verdict for a 12 juror’s jury would be one where a minimum of 11 jurors agreed. Under section 59A(6) the prescribed period means a period of minimum of eight fours once the jury retires for considering their verdict[11]. This period does not cover the time allowed for refreshments or means, the time where the juries were separated, and the time where the juries were accommodated overnight. Based on the complexity of trial, other factors can also be included[12].

In this case, the court was applying the principle of fair trial. The judges were looking at the entire scenario for constituting that a fair trial was taking place for all the parties, which was based on law. There is no single exhaustive list which covers the attributes of fair trial. In general, it is expected that the information which is related to the issues which have been presented before the court, have to be disclosed to the defence and prosecution lawyers. Further, both the parties have to be given the opportunity of responding to the matters which are prejudicial or against their interests. Included in this is the opportunity of making submission on the pertinent matters which could have an impact on the future conduct of trial[13].

Scholarly Journal Article

As the quoted legislation allowed the trial judge to ask t he jury on reaching a majority verdict, this very provision was made use of in this case. And on this, none of the counsel had made the application before the trial judge to get the jury discharged. The act provided that an individual is not to make the jury information public. In this context, the trial judge noticed that the jury had met for over eight hours and thus could be asked to reach a decision. This is the reason why the trial judge told the jurors that a certain period had passed without their ability in getting to a unanimous verdict.

Owing to the reasoning stated above, the trial judge gave the decision from the jury verdict of 11:1 saying that the appellant was guilty. In deciding on the fairness of trial matter, the leading judgment of Justice Gordon provided that the interim voting patterns of jury had not been relevant to the trial’s future conduct. What had been actually relevant to the trial’s future conduct, in view of Gordon J, were the answers of the jury speaker, which had been given in the open court to the direct questions of the trial judge, which were related to the allowing of majority verdict being a solution to the present situation, and on the issue of considering is more time was required by the jury in considering their verdict. The trial judge was not under the obligation of disclosing the exact contents of the notes of jury, to the counsel, before they determined on whether a majority verdict had to be permitted or not. The numerical split, particularly the extent of it, of the jury, was enough to tell the judge that there was a situation in deliberations, where there was a lack of unanimous decision by the jury. However, this does not, at any point of time, present that the jury was deadlocked, or that they had not attained a verdict. Even when the trial judge knew that the jury had been deadlocked, their conduct had not been affected by or dependent on what had been disclosed in the note of the jury[14].

In context of procedural fairness, the five judges agreed that the appellant had not been denied the procedural fairness under trial. The only information which they held was relevant here were the answers given to direct questions of the trial judge by the jury in the open court regarding the majority verdict solving the situation to the relevant future conduct of trial. There was no relevance of the information regarding economics patterns or interim voting in procedural fairness. The quoted legislation did not cover any provisions which could displace the general principle regarding the voting patterns or interim votes to not be disclosed. Further, the disclosure of such patterns was not a necessity for the judges in advising the jury on majority verdicts, or for the jury in performing their role. It was required that the jurors were given enough freedom to change their decisions[15]. This was particularly in context of case of Black v The Queen[16], where it was provided that the jurors have to listen to the views of each other, weight them properly and the individuals can change their mind where they honestly persuade their preliminary view as not being well founded.

Website Resource

The failure of trial judge in informing the counsel of interim voting patterns and interim votes of jury did not constitute as a procedure fairness being denied. The key matter in this case which had to be answered in getting to a conclusion was whether the information regarding the interim voting patterns and interim votes was relevant to  the matter presented before the court. None of these were held as relevant by the court. This led to the court passing an order to dismiss the appeal[17].

This case had been decided just three years back, and relates to the present day approach. This is the reason why this judgment cannot be deemed as old fashion which is inappropriate in the world today. This case follows the theme of criminal justice system across the years, which continues to hold significance across the years.

The emphasis of the High Court on nondisclosure of the interim votes was based on the notion that the deliberation of the jury had to be confidential. This is the principle which is given the highest significance in criminal justice system. Through this principle, confidence is maintained in the process followed by jury and also helps in protecting the verdict’s finality. Apart from this, it allows for open and frank discussion amongst the jurors, where the jurors are assured that whatever they say in the jury room would remain in that room only. Justice Gordon had expressed that the process of getting to a verdict was not static and was a fluid one. The changeable character of deliberations of the jury meant that till the time a final verdict was attained, every juror had the right of changing their mind. The nature and the true complexity of division of reasoning of jury were not captured only through the figures of voting. This was because the jurors individually do not reach a specific conclusion by going on a same route necessarily. Where too much emphasis is given on these figures, it would result in the deliberations of jury being second guessed[18].

This is the reason why the disregard of the trial judge on the interim voting patterns of the jury was correct.  This case is particularly an important precedent in context that the jurors should refrain from revealing their voting patterns or votes where they convey to the trial judge that they were facing difficulties in getting to a verdict. The judges have to provide directions to the juries, as had been given in this case, which indicate so, in order to make certain that the trial is undertaken based on the rule of law and the principles of procedural fairness[19].

References

Austlii, Smith v The Queen [2015] HCA 27 business-law <https://www6.austlii.edu.au/cgi-bin/viewdoc/au/cases/cth/HCA/2015/27.html#fnB33>

Clark M, Smith v The Queen (05 August 2015) <https://blogs.unimelb.edu.au/opinionsonhigh/2015/08/05/smith-case-page-2/>

Gans J, Secret Votes in the High Court: Smith v The Queen (16 December 2015) <https://blogs.unimelb.edu.au/opinionsonhigh/2015/12/16/secret-votes-in-the-high-court-smith-v-the-queen/>

High Court of Australia, Smith v The Queen (5 August 2015) <https://eresources.hcourt.gov.au/downloadPdf/2015/HCA/27>

Jade, Smith v The Queen (5 August 2015) <https://jade.io/article/402565>

Rule of Law, Case Note: Smith v The Queen [2015] HCA 27 – Procedural Fairness and Juries (09 August 2015) <https://www.ruleoflaw.org.au/smith-the-queen-procedural-fairness-juries/>

Supreme and District Court Benchbook, Majority Verdict (2017) <https://www.courts.qld.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0006/86055/sd-bb-55-majority-verdict.pdf>

Time Base, Smith v The Queen [2015] HCA 27: Procedural Fairness and Majority Jury Verdicts (06 August 2015) <https://www.timebase.com.au/news/2015/AT300-article.html>

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