24th Oct 2012


The appellant (L) appealed against her conviction for murder.

The deceased (P) was a partner in a firm of attorneys. L had worked for her as a secretary for about 17 years. The evidence disclosed that on April 13, 2000 a blue Datsun taxi came to the building where the firm's offices were situated and that two men (D and W) got out, entered the offices and cut P's throat. As they were driving away, the taxi was stopped by the police and the occupants were arrested. The case against L depended on the evidence of another secretary (R) that, at the preliminary enquiry which had been held in September 2000, she had identified W as a person who had spoken to L at the office on two occasions during the week preceding the murder. The Crown also relied, among other things, on evidence from the receptionist that the murderers had gone initially to L's desk and on the evidence of a police superintendent that L had not been visibly distressed in the aftermath of the murder. Evidence was led on L's behalf from a number of witnesses. The office manager gave evidence tending to exonerate L, and a press photographer said that he had seen her crying. Further, a justice of the peace who had known her for more than 20 years gave evidence as to her good character.


The judge's directions to the jury had been deficient in several respects. As to R's evidence, the judge had made a number of comments which appeared to diminish the significance of legitimate points made on behalf of the defence. First, L's counsel had drawn attention to the fact that R had not identified W at the identification parade held six days after the murder, a fact which might be thought to weaken the reliability of her purported identification of him, for the first time, five months later at the preliminary enquiry. Second, there was no corroboration of R's claim that she had reported her identification of W to Crown counsel and other persons present at the preliminary enquiry. More importantly, the judge did not give the jury a Turnbull direction in respect of R's evidence; she should have given a direction tailored to the factors affecting the reliability of R's claimed identification of W at the preliminary enquiry, five months after she claimed to have seen him in the office. The judge had also omitted to direct the jury as to the relevance of L's good character to her propensity to be a participant in murder. Moreover, the judge's summing-up of the evidence lacked the necessary balance and introduced material which was prejudicial to L. The judge made repeated references, almost sarcastic in tone, to L's loyalty to P. Further, L had given evidence that P had lent her money to buy a car and that she had bought a Datsun; the judge actually suggested that L had provided the murderers with the getaway car, despite there being no evidence to support that suggestion. The cumulative effect of the deficiencies was that the defence case was not put before the jury in a fair and balanced way. It was impossible to conclude that if the jury had been properly directed L was nevertheless bound to have been convicted. Her conviction was unsafe (see paras 27-28, 30, 35-36, 38 of judgment).

Appeal allowed.


The appellant's conviction for the murder of her employer was rendered unsafe by the judge's deficient directions to the jury and by a summing-up which was unfairly prejudicial to the appellant.

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