Multiple charges

Charges being heard together can be highly prejudicial to a defendant. The tension is usually resolved by running trials together where the evidence is generally “cross-admissible”

There is a fairly obvious public benefit in multiple charges being heard together. Charges that are tried separately take exponentially longer to determine, at significant cost to the community.

However, charges being heard together can be highly prejudicial to a defendant. Whilst juries are provided with detailed directions about what evidence is admissible in relation to what charge, it is perhaps doubtful that jurors are equipped to apply such directions.

The tension is usually resolved by running trials together where the evidence is generally “cross-admissible”. In these cases, it is still necessary to ensure that juries are directed against the risk of the jury deciding verdict other than according to the evidence admitted against that charge.

The bench book includes (at 1-490) an explanation for the jury about multiple charges, including a warning that each charge needs to be considered separately, and that the charges are being “tried together as a matter of convenience”.

Separate chapters deals with directions to be given to juries where charges are heard together. This chapter focusses on the decision to try charges together in the first place.

Sutton

Sutton v R [1984] HCA 5

“When two or more counts constituting a series of offences of a similar character are joined in the same information, a real risk of prejudice to an accused person may arise from the adverse effect which evidence of his implication in one of the offences charged in the indictment is likely to have upon the jury's mind in deciding whether he is guilty of another of those offences. Where that evidence is not admissible towards proof of his guilt of the other offence, some step must be taken to protect the accused person against the risk of impermissible prejudice. Sometimes a direction to the jury is sufficient to guard against such a risk; sometimes it is not. Where a direction to the jury is not sufficient to guard against such a risk, an application for separate trials should generally be granted.”

“Usually, there is no risk of impermissible prejudice arising from the conduct of a single trial upon an indictment containing more than one count where the evidence relating to the accused's implication in an offence charged in one count is admissible in proof of his guilt of the offence or offences charged in the other count or counts.”