Murray Direction

The Murray direction makes it clear that a jury must “closely” scrutinise the evidence of a lone witness before finding beyond reasonable doubt that the offence charged is proved. As the Court of Criminal Appeal found in Smale, there really is nothing controversial about that, given that it is little more than an extension of the onus direction.

The requirement that any person tried in respect of an alleged criminal offence be found guilty beyond reasonable doubt is, self evidently, a demanding requirement.

Notwithstanding the “beyond reasonable doubt” is a term well known in the community, the application of the term is perhaps confusing. Jury members might be forgiven for thinking that it could surely not be possible to be satisfied beyond reasonable doubt based on the evidence of one person. On the other hand, a jury member might fail to grasp the high confidence a jury must have in the evidence of a sole witness if it were to convict thereupon.

The Murray direction makes it clear that a jury must “closely” scrutinise the evidence of a lone witness before finding beyond reasonable doubt that the offence charged is proved. As the Court of Criminal Appeal found in Smale, there really is nothing controversial about that, given that it is little more than an extension of the onus direction.

The category of offences requiring the direction were narrowed once, in Ewen, the court found that the direction should not be given in trials for prescribed sexual offences. This is as a consequence of s294AA of the Criminal Procedure Act, which forbids a warning that complainants are, as a class, “unreliable”.

Murray

R v Murray (1987) 11 NSWLR 12

“In all cases of serious crime it is customary for judges to stress that where there is only one witness asserting the commission of the crime, the evidence of that witness must be scrutinised with great care before a conclusion is arrived at that a verdict of guilty should be brought in; but a direction of that kind does not of itself imply that the witness' evidence is unreliable.”