SEX CASE TRAVESTY
A man who spent 11 months in prison after being convicted of a sex crime has been freed, had his conviction quashed and will not face another trial after WA’s highest court ruled his defence counsel ran his case so badly that a miscarriage of justice occurred.
Steven Scott Jeffery was convicted last year of a sex attack on a 13-year-old girl, who told a court she had been touched inappropriately while sitting at a lunch table surrounded by adults and other children.
But Mr Jeffery vehemently denied the offence had taken place — even after a jury convicted him of the crime and he was jailed for three years.
Shortly after the conviction, he launched an appeal, partly on the basis that his experienced lawyers had run his case incompetently.
And in a rare ruling from the WA Court of Appeal, three judges agreed with the argument put forward by former WA governor Malcolm McCusker and ordered a retrial.
Yesterday, the case was formally discontinued by the Director of Public Prosecutions, prompting the Court of Appeal to publish its reasons for throwing out the conviction.
The court criticised Mr Jeffery’s former lawyers — solicitor Nick Scerri and the trial practitioner who is not named by the appeal court but The Weekend West understands is veteran barrister Tony Elliott.
The criticism mainly surrounds inadequate advice given to Mr Jeffery about him not testifying in his defence, which was finalised on the run during a lunch break in-trial — meaning the jury never heard him directly deny the offence.
That was because his repeated denials to police were also not played in court.
The appeal court also said the defence’s “case theory” run before the jury — that the girl had been sexually abused at a lunch table at some stage, but had misidentified when — was “completely unsupported by the evidence”.
“No competent counsel would reasonably have formulated the case theory which (Mr Jeffery’s barrister) put before the jury in his opening statement and which he developed and pursued throughout the trial,” the court of appeal said. “No rational forensic justification can be discerned for counsel’s strategy.
“Indeed, the only conclusion reasonably open in the circumstances is that counsel’s strategy is incapable of rational explanation on forensic grounds.
“The appellant has suffered a miscarriage of justice. There is a significant possibility the practitioner’s error on such a crucial aspect of the defence case affected the outcome of the trial.”
Mr Jeffery’s lawyers said yesterday they were delighted with the ruling, and were now considering whether there might be recourse for compensation for the time spent in custody.
“It was very pleasing, although not surprising, that our WA Court of Appeal has upheld one of the basic principles of our criminal justice system — the right of every person to a fair trial,” Mr McCusker said.
However, the girl who accused Mr Jeffery said she was devastated by the outcome, and could not face testifying again.
“I feel failed by the WA justice system,” she said. “Knowing the conviction was overturned due to his own lawyers?
“I can’t make sense of that.”
(He) ... suffered a miscarriage of justice. WA Court of Appeal