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R v Fanning & Ors [2016] EWCA Crim 550 re Inconsistent Jury Verdicts

In this appeal agianst conviction in the Court of Appeal, heard on 28th April 2016, the court considered inconsitent verdicts and whether these necessarily led to unsafe convictions. Early in the judgement the court cited the following:

The early history of New South Wales was affected by English juries which, in the face of clear evidence, declined to find the value of goods stolen sufficient to attract the punishment of death, thereby affording to the offender the alternative punishment of transportation Castles on Australian Legal History.

The Court of Appeal quoted the above judgement of the High Court of Australia with approval. This judgement too considered the question of whether the inconsistency of verdicts in itself was a valid a ground of appeal. Essentially, in these multiple appeals against conviction, the Court of Appeal re-stated that the sole test on appeal was whether the convictions were 'safe' if they were the conviction stood, if not it would be quashed (whether or not they were inconsistent).

Later in its judgement, the Court yet again cited a judgement of the High Court of Australia with approval and quoted the following:

In R v Kirkman (1987) 44 SASR 591 at 593, in the Supreme Court of South Australia, King CJ (with the concurrence of Olsson and O'Loughlin JJ) observed:

"[J]uries cannot always be expected to act in accordance with strictly logical considerations and in accordance with the strict principles of the law which are explained to them, and courts, I think, must be very cautious about setting aside verdicts which are adequately supported by the evidence simply because a judge might find it difficult to reconcile them with the verdicts which had been reached by the jury with respect to other charges. Sometimes juries apply in favour of an accused what might be described as their innate sense of fairness and justice in place of the strict principles of law. Sometimes it appears to a jury that although a number of counts have been alleged against an accused person, and have been technically proved, justice is sufficiently met by convicting him of less than the full number. This may not be logically justifiable in the eyes of a judge, but I think it would be idle to close our eyes to the fact that it is part and parcel of the system of administration of justice by juries. Appellate courts therefore should not be too ready to jump to the conclusion that because a verdict of guilty cannot be reconciled as a matter of strict logic with a verdict of not guilty with respect to another count, the jury acted unreasonably in arriving at the verdict of guilty."

In relation to the above passage the Court of Appeal simply stated: 'We agree with these practical and sensible remarks.'

So the judgement really ended where it began - the test is very simply 'is the verdict unsafe' - some apparently inconsistent verdicts can it seems be regarded as not rendering the conviction unsafe, and some can...its as simple at that!