The rise of the guilty plea

Research Brief 14   When most of us think of criminal trials, our general point of reference is popular culture. Courtroom dramas like Janet King, Rake, and Law and Order typically script a characterisation of a full prosecution process. There are the pre-trial activities by police: an investigation, interviews with witnesses and suspects, and charges […]

Juries and impartial justice

Research Brief 13   In 1898, police constable Edward Johnson was committed for trial on larceny charges. Johnson, acting in his official capacity, had allegedly received an overdue rates payment from a householder at Bendigo, and neglected to pay it into the council fund. In December Johnson was duly tried, but the jury failed to […]

Criminals in the courtroom

Research Brief 12   In 1837, wealthy landowner and ex-magistrate James Mudie returned to London and published a book entitled The Felonry of New South Wales. In it, he described the law courts and the legal profession in New South Wales as “a sink of corruption and iniquity, detestable profligacy and disgusting filth”. Did Mudie’s […]

What’s in a name?

Research Brief 11   The forms of law can appear opaque. Ostensibly they are designed to ensure a measure of due process. Their impact on accused and complainants may be unpredictable. During the nineteenth century governments tried to formalise and even simplify the process by which criminal charges were brought and trials conducted. An early […]

Love and deceit

Research Brief 10   For the past several weeks, radio listeners who tune in to the drive-time programme of comedians Dave Hughes and Kate Langbroek have been enthralled by the unfolding saga of Barb and Niko. Barb is Langbroek’s online alter-ego, whose dating profile – depicting her as a rich middle-aged widow – was designed […]

Speaking positions

Research Brief 9   In April 1905, elderly Henry Ayling appeared before Judge Burnside and a jury of 12 peers in the Perth Criminal Court on a charge of bigamy. The key question during the trial centred on the validity of Henry’s first marriage, alleged to have occurred in Adelaide in 1877 almost 30 years […]

Swearing children: The nature of an oath

Research Brief 8   For the adversarial trial, the oath symbolizes the ascertainment of truth. Truth is emphasized in the witness swearing to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. Historically, the swearing of an oath by a witness at trial had a number of significant implications. Those who were foresworn […]

Juries mediating justice

Research Brief 7   Although most people envision the jury’s role as simply determining the guilt or innocence of a defendant, the outcome of a jury trial can actually be much more complex. Factors surrounding the trial and the defendant’s actions can lead to less straightforward verdicts which do not necessarily indicate whether the accused […]

No mercy for a would-be assassin

Research Brief 6   ‘In the end’, says Australia’s Prime Minister appealing to the Indonesian government for clemency for Australian drug smugglers facing a firing squad, ‘mercy has to be a part of every justice system’. The sentiment is noble. Mercy has been a prerogative of sovereigns and of the democratic governments that have succeeded […]

Christmas, crime and spirits

Research Brief 5   The festive period may be the season of good will, but this annual spirit of benevolence is not particularly apparent from the annals of criminal history. While court business is suspended across the holidays, crime is decidedly not. Just like the rest of the year, a variety of offences against property, […]