Criminal Law

By Peter Woodhouse


Tostee case suggests need for better choices by DPP

I am surprised a jury took 4 days of deliberation to acquit Gable Tostee of murder and manslaughter in the recent QLD case that has intrigued a great portion of the country.  I, like a lot of people, had been following the media reports about the trial and had expected the same verdict to come much quicker.

Whilst I haven’t read the brief of evidence and don’t know all the details, as a criminal defence lawyer I was flabbergasted he would be charged with murder in the first place.

True it is that Mr Tostee’s behaviour was unbecoming of a gentleman.  Some may say he was a complete prat.  But unlawful homicide (whether murder or manslaughter) it wasn’t.

The overwhelming question that begs to be asked in the wash-up of this mess is why on earth was he charged and tried for murder?  A sceptic may say it is the police/DPP way of pandering to the public – they don’t want to be the ones who say, bravely: “we’ve looked at this and decided not to charge him”.  It is easier to take the Coward’s castle approach and hide behind the rhetoric: “we charged and left it to the Court to decide”.

It appears QLD (and a lot of other jurisdictions, including the ACT) may be lacking a fierce, brave and truly independent DPP who is not afraid to say, in the face of public criticism, there is not enough evidence here and/or we have decided the prosecution should not proceed.  I can think of several trials that I have been involved in as a criminal defence lawyer in the past 5 years or so that should never have been run.  There is one significant re-trial coming up in the future that I am not involved in that also fits that category.

What is the cost to the community and to people like Mr Tostee for what seem to be mere show trials?  It must be hundreds of thousands of dollars – and for what purpose?  I assume the victim’s family are not satisfied with the result and whilst I am sure Mr Tostee is relieved, it is a process he and any other acquitted accused I have spoken to would never want to relive.