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Judgment handed down in William Nicholls v The Queen

17 October 2016

The Court of Appeal (Justice Osborn and Justice Santamaria, President Maxwell dissenting) today dismissed an appeal by William Nicholls against his conviction on two charges of intentionally causing serious injury in the County Court at Geelong in March 2015.   

Mr Nicholls was found guilty by a jury. The charges related to the shooting of two different victims in the leg with firearms in connection with drug transactions. Mr Nicholls argued on appeal that the two charges should not have been heard together by the same jury.

The Court of Appeal (Justice Osborn and Justice Santamaria) rejected his three arguments in support of this contention, concluding that (1) it was open to the prosecutor to have joined the two charges on the one indictment; (2) it was a rational forensic decision for defence counsel not to have sought separate trials and to have the charges heard together, so as to attack more effectively the credit of one witness who would give evidence relevant to each charge; and, (3) the directions given by the trial judge to the jury about how to assess the evidence and consider the charges were ‘a model of clarity’.

In dissent, however, President Maxwell considered that:

Such advantage as was likely to flow [to the defence] from the charges being tried jointly was ‘slight in comparison with the disadvantage resulting from the course in question’. Defence counsel’s decision was not, therefore, ‘an informed and deliberate decision’, or a ‘rational forensic decision’, as those phrases are used in the authorities.

Further, the Court of Appeal unanimously dismissed a sentence appeal brought by Mr Nicholls. He was sentenced to 8 years’ imprisonment on each charge, with a total effective sentence of 11 years’ imprisonment.  

The Court concluded:

In the circumstances, and despite the matters personal to the appellant which were urged at the plea and on the appeal, it is not possible to say that the sentences imposed upon the appellant are manifestly excessive.

NOTE:  This summary is necessarily incomplete. It is not intended as a substitute for the Court’s reasons or to be used in any later consideration of the Court’s reasons.  The only authoritative pronouncement of the Court’s reasons and conclusions is that contained in the published reasons for judgment.

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