Ideas or decisions?

Much that is of interest to criminal lawyers in Dickson v R [2010] HCA 30 (22 September 2010) is not discussed in the judgment.

The appellant had been convicted of an offence against a statutory provision that was invalid by reason of its inconsistency with s 11.5 of the Criminal Code (C’th). The High Court ordered that the charge should be quashed, the conviction entered on it should be quashed, and the sentence should be set aside.

The questions that naturally arise from this did not require decision, but some digression might have been interesting:

  • If Mr Dickson had been acquitted at trial, would that have been a valid acquittal?
  • Was he in jeopardy of conviction?
  • Can he, if now properly charged, plead previous conviction? Or previous acquittal (in view of the successful appeal)?
  • Would new proceedings on the same matter be an abuse of process?

There are implications of this decision that could be, for Australians, utterly horrifying, as Associate Professor Jeremy Gans suggests.

This decision has what are coming to be hallmarks of the new style of the High Court, at least in criminal cases: one judgment, tightly reasoned, narrowly focused. It is as if the Court has undertaken a physicist-like quest for a unified theory of everything (in the sense of one voice on every issue). Lady Hale would not approve (update: she elaborates here), and I agree with her.

There is nothing wrong with bringing the methods of science to law, but some sciences recognise the value of diversity. The current style does nothing to promote a growth in ideas.

For discussion of “null and void” at this site, see entries for 20 February 2006, 28 July 2006, and 13 May 2008.

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