R v Crawford (unrep) Flannery DCJ 1 November 2018 – permanent stay of indictment

In R v Hakim [1981] 41 A Crim R 372 Lee J said “it would be out of accord with common humanity” to allow the trial to proceed.

In this case, Greg Walsh appeared for Vincent Crawford, who is 86 years of age. He had severe dementia and was in a “vegetative state, barley rousable, he has no capacity to communicate or alternatively, if he does, to communicate in a rational sense.”

He was completely dependent on nursing care for mobility and is verbally and physically disruptive, aggressive and prone to violent outbursts.

The Prosecution proposed that notwithstanding Mr Crawford’s condition as expressed by Dr Roberts, Forensic Psychiatrist, that he could be brought to Court and the special trial could proceed. This was not withstanding the evidence of the Director of the Nursing Home that he would require a fully body lifting machine and three staff and he would be very confused in the Court environment and prone to aggressive and disruptive outbursts.

The alleged offences were committed between 30-35 years ago. The Complainant first complained to Police on 29 December 2014 and though a statement was taken from him, no further active investigation was undertaken until Detective Tyrell spoke to him on 6 October 2015.

The Accused was arrested and charged on 22 April 2016 despite the fact he had severe dementia and could not answer any charges or defend himself in any way.

If the Accused had been spoken to shortly after 29 December 2014, he would have some capacity to answer the charges and defend himself. However, on 18 September 2015, he suffered a major stroke which led him to develop severe dementia. A critical witness was not interviewed.

Detective Tyrell was cross-examined by Greg Walsh and in cross-examination, agreed that though an important witness, Sister Elizabeth was alive, she was not spoken to. The reason for this was that the Complainant had indicated to the Detective that he didn’t want any statement taken from her. The Detective made no enquiries as to the whereabouts of Sister Elizabeth either via the RTA System or a search of the Police System.

The Applicant for a Permanent Stay of the hearing was heard by Her Honour Judge Flannery of the District Court. Greg Walsh did not simply rely upon the 30-35 years delay, but a number of overlapping features including the prejudice which also occurred in the context of the Accused’s medical condition. See McDonald v R [2016] VSCA 304.

Flannery DCJ referred to the decisions of Jago v District Court [1989] 87 ALR 577, Subramaniam v R [2004] 211 ALR 1, R v Zvonaric [2001] NSWCCA 505.

Greg Walsh argued that Zvonaric required an accused to be present for his arraignment and that it was not adequate that this could be done by the Evidence (Audio and Audio Visual Links) Act as contended by the Crown.

In Zvonaric, Justice Adams, with whom Spigelman CJ and Sully J agreed, emphasised that a special hearing required strict compliance with procedure, including that the Accused be present for his arraignment.

Flannery DCJ referred to s.21 of the Mental Health (Forensic Provisions) Act which provides “except as provided by this Act, a special hearing is to be conducted as nearly as possible as if it were a trial of criminal proceedings.”  Her Honour held that she was satisfied that the Accused should be present, not just for the arraignment, but the whole of the special hearing unless he has waived his right to be present.

A feature that Her Honour also considered was that of prejudice being one of much significance because of the major stroke suffered by the Accused in combination with the failure of investigating Police to properly investigate the allegations against the Accused. The outcome of the special hearing was also a matter to be considered. Her Honour also referred to the observations of Adams J in Littler [2001] NSWCCA 173.

The special hearing was permanently stayed.