Field v R  NSWCCA 332 (“the case”) is a criminal case involving the judicial review of a conviction of manslaughter. The parties to this case were: Appellant, Mr Craig Field; and Respondent, the Crown.
On 9 December 2014, the Supreme Court of NSW found the Appellant guilty of the manslaughter of Mr Kelvin Kane and sentenced the Appellant to ten years imprisonment with a non-parole parole period of seven years and six months under Section 24 of the Crimes Act on 17 December 2014.
The Appellant contended in this case that the jury before whom he was tried on 9 December 2014 returned a verdict that was unreasonable and cannot be supported having regard to the whole of the evidence under Section 6(1) of the Criminal Appeal Act 1912 (NSW). The Appellant sought leave for appeal from the Supreme Court of Criminal Appeal of NSW (“the Court”) with respect to same.
The case was heard before Judges Macfarlan JA, John J and R A Hulme on 23 December 2015. The Judges were not persuaded that the Appellant’s sentence could be characterised as unreasonable or unjust and ordered that leave to appeal against conviction and sentence be granted but the appeals be dismissed.
Having regards to all of the issues surrounding the case, namely the objective seriousness of the offence and the guidepost of the maximum penalty prescribed by Parliament for such offences, their Honours’ decision ultimately reinforces the integrity of the law and serves the community’s interests. It demonstrates the need for clear punishment that will deter others from public acts of aggression that may, as in this case, have tragically fatal consequences.
- On 15 July 2012 at approximately 8:45PM, Mr Kane (the victim) left Kingscliff Beach Hotel at Kingscliff, NSW with three friends, Ms Lynn Burger, Ms Lauren Grainger and Mr Mark Frost. Together they walked towards their motor vehicle in the car park in which Ms Grainger was to drive them away from the hotel.
- Ms Grainger, Mr Frost and Ms Burger seated themselves in the vehicle. As Mr Kane was stepping into the motor vehicle, Mr Shaun Fathers instigated a confrontation with Mr Kane.
- Mr Fathers exchanged some punches to Mr Kane although evidence says that no punches were landed on Mr Kane.
- The Appellant was present at this time.
- The Appellant punched Mr Kane immediately before Mr Kane collapsed and died at 9.00PM.
- The Appellant does not accept that the blow caused Mr Kane’s death, instead that Mr Fathers who was involved in the altercation at that time had previously delivered a punch that was the cause of Mr Kane’s death.
The Court was satisfied that the Appellant was guilty of the manslaughter of Mr Kane upon proving that the Appellant:
- Made the conscious decision to involve himself in a fight with a man not known to him and to deliver a punch to the man’s head.
- The punch was delivered with at least substantial force.
- The offender must have appreciated the risk that he would cause significant injury by the delivery after Mr Kane had been […] expressing a clear desire that he did not wish to involve himself in violence.
- The punch was struck without warning.
- The punch was unprovoked by anything the deceased said or did; and
- The violence was perpetrated in a carpark open to members of the public and in sight of neighbouring residents and visitors to the area who were attracted to the incident.
The Appellant raised numerous grounds of appeal, the first being unreasonable verdict. To determine this ground of appeal, the Court must make “an independent assessment of the evidence, both as to its sufficiency and its quality” (SKA v The Queen  HCA 13; 243 CLR 400 at ) and then must determine whether “upon the whole of the evidence it was open to the jury to be satisfied beyond reasonable doubt that the accused was guilty” (SKA at ). The Crown had proved its case at trial beyond reasonable doubt and that the jury’s verdict was therefore open to it.
The Appellant’s second ground of appeal was the inconsistencies in the witnesses’ evidence. To determine this ground of appeal, the Court refers to M v Queen  HCA 63; 181 CLR 487 at 534 and notes that “if a jury thinks that the demeanour of the witness or the probability of occurrence of the witness’s general account is persuasive, they may reasonably think that discrepancies or even inconsistencies concerning details are of little moment”. There were undoubtedly some inconsistencies in and between the witnesses’ evidence, including whether Mr Kane was hit on the left or right of his head. However, for the reasons that McHugh J gave in M v The Queen  HCA 63; 181 CLR 487 at 73, such inconsistencies are to be expected especially in circumstances where the witness’s encountered issues of distance, lighting and a rapid unfolding of traumatic events. The jury in this case had the advantage of seeing and hearing all of the witnesses give evidence and found the Appellant guilty of manslaughter. Further, the “jury is the body entrusted with the primary responsibility of determining guilt or innocence, and the jury has the benefit of having seen and heard the witnesses.”
The Appellant’s third ground of appeal was circumstantial evidence relating to the case. To determine this ground of appeal, their Honours’ referred to the need to consider “the weight which is to be given to the united force of all the circumstances put together” (R v Hillier  HCA 13; 228 CLR 618). Strictly speaking, the Crown’s case against the applicant was not a circumstantial one as there was considerable direct evidence, including from the Appellant himself, that he hit Mr Kane immediately before he collapsed. Moreover, there was eye-witness evidence that supported the Crown’s contention that no-one else landed a punch on Mr Kane that could have caused his death.
Having regards to all of the issues surrounding the case, it appears their Honour’s decision solidifies the importance of clear punishment that will deter others from public acts of aggression that may, as in this case, have tragically fatal consequences.