It’s hardly fair to call this a 101 topic, as it’s unlikely to arise as an issue in your professional life; nonetheless, it’s an interesting topic, recently considered by some of our superior courts, and their observations are worth recording.

Smith v WA has had a lengthy history; you may recall the High Court decision in 2014.

The pertinent fact is that, following the announcement of the jury verdict, a juror left the following note in the jury room:

“I have been physically coerced by a fellow juror to change my plea to be aligned with the majority vote.  This has made my ability to perform my duty as a juror on this panel.” [sic]

Unsurprisingly, the offender appealed his conviction, arguing it was unsound owing to juror coercion. The WACA dismissed this conviction appeal, saying that a jury verdict, once entered, cannot be impugned by evidence from a juror about jury deliberations.  The High Court disagreed, noting that the common law makes an exception to this rule where there is unlawful intimidation in the jury room.  It remitted the matter, indicating a curial inquiry ought to be conducted to determine the facts, if practicable.

The subsequent appeal judgment outlines the process and purpose of the curial inquiry, the evidentiary status of the note and evidence received during the inquiry, the relevant standard of proof, and, in setting out evidence received, gives an extremely rare glimpse into the Australian jury room.

Ultimately, the WACA was satisfied there was no coercion; the foreperson, who had written the note, had freely joined in the verdict. The conviction was maintained.

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