Appealing Supreme Court Decisions (NT)
The Supreme Court is the superior court in the Northern Territory, with jurisdiction over the most serious criminal and civil law matters. When a party believes that a decision of the Supreme Court was made in error, there are avenues for appeal of the decision. Appeals of Supreme Court decisions are heard according to the Supreme Court Act 2017, and the Supreme Court Rules 2008. This article explains the process of appealing Supreme Court decisions in the Northern Territory, with reference to recent case law.
Appealing Supreme Court Decisions in the Northern Territory
The Supreme Court is both a court of first instance for serious criminal matters and high-value civil matters, and a court of appeal for decisions from a Northern Territory Local Court or Tribunal. Appeals from Supreme Court decisions are heard by three Supreme Court Justices sitting as the Court of Appeal (for appeals of civil decisions) and the Court of Criminal Appeal (for appeals of criminal decisions). Naturally, a justice cannot sit on an appeal of their own decision.
Leave to appeal
A party can appeal a Supreme Court decision if they believe that the decision was made in error. This process begins by filing an application seeking leave to proceed. The Supreme Court will decide whether to grant leave.
Appeals are not a rehearing of the original case. Rather, each appeal is run on specific grounds. Each ground is an allegation of error on the part of the lower court. An appellant requires specialist legal representation with expertise on these grounds when appealing a Supreme Court decision in the Northern Territory. Appeals rarely examine the evidence from the first hearing. More frequently, they involve an examination of whether the correct legal principles were applied by the justice hearing the case. On occasion, an appeal can involve a request to consider new evidence, but this occurs within strict constraints.
After reviewing all submissions, the appellate court determines whether there was an error in the first decision and, if so, decides an appropriate remedy. An appellate court can substitute the original decision with a new decision or remit the case back to a lower court for determination based on correct legal principles.
In Woodhill v The Queen , Jason Woodhill was convicted by the Supreme Court of the Northern Territory on nine counts of obtaining benefit by criminal deception contrary to the Criminal Code Act 1983 (NT). He was sentenced to an aggregate term of four years and six months imprisonment. He requested leave to appeal to the Court of Criminal Appeal.
The defendant’s counsel submitted that the sentencing judge failed to give regard to the principle of totality, and the sentence was manifestly excessive given the circumstances.
The Court of Criminal Appeal refused leave to appeal on the basis that the primary judge had not made an error of fact or law. In fact, the judge found that the maximum available sentence was 63 years imprisonment, so the sentence imposed could not be seen as manifestly excessive.
In The Queen v EG , the Crown appealed a Supreme Court decision on the grounds that the sentence was manifestly inadequate. In this case, the defendant was sentenced to six years imprisonment, with a non-parole period of four years, for 28 sexual offences against small children, including his own daughter.
The Crown submitted that the sentencing judge erred in relying on an apparent lack of harm to the victims as a mitigating factor. The appellate court found that there was a fair inference that the victims did not currently suffer harm because they were too young, unconscious or unaware of the defendant’s actions. However, the court found that the sentencing judge made a demonstrative error by using the absence of evidence of future psychological harm as a mitigating factor to benefit the offender.
The Court of Criminal Appeal agreed with the Crown that “no evidence of harm is not equivalent to evidence of no harm”. The court ultimately found that the sentence imposed did not adequately reflect the seriousness of the offences. The defendant was resentenced to 12 years and three months, with a non-parole period of six years and eight months.
Appeals to the High Court of Australia
A decision of the Northern Territory Court of Criminal Appeal or Court of Appeal can be further appealed to the High Court of Australia. Again, leave to appeal must be granted, and the court must be persuaded during a preliminary hearing that the case is of public or general importance. A decision of the High Court on appeal is final and binding on all lower Australian courts, with no further appeal possible.
Please contact Go To Court Lawyers for help appealing a Supreme Court decision in the Northern Territory. Call 1300 636 846 for legal advice or representation on this matter.